Zachary Josie’s journey to becoming an IRONMAN athlete has been anything but standard.
Born with Ellis-van Creveld (EVC) syndrome, the least common form of dwarfism, the native Herriman had the deck of cards stacked against him from the start.
But through a cycling class taken at Southern Utah University, a brother with running roots, and the learning curve of swim lessons, Josie is set to become an inspiration for those with not only dwarfism, but other conditions.
Ellis-van Creveld syndrome is not all that different from the more common type of dwarfism, known as achondroplasia.
Those with EVC are typically taller than those with achondroplasia and heights range from 4-foot-6 to around 5-foot-3. Achondroplasia heights range from 3-foot-6 to 4-foot-10.
Josie himself is right around five feet. Older brother Jesse, and younger brothers Sam and Riley also have EVC.
Zach was born with six toes on both hands and six toes on his right foot.
“My torso is really long compared to my legs and my arms, and that’s pretty common in the more common form,” said Josie.
The mismatching proportions of Josie’s body made it difficult to find gear and equipment that suited him for being an IRONMAN athlete.
When Josie first started, he had to wear an extra small wetsuit.
The wetsuit proved to be too tight around his torso.
The bike Josie started with had him hunched over too much, and Josie was unable to get as much power behind cycling as he thought he would.
Josie, a Southern Utah University graduate, first took cycling seriously while taking a spin class at the US.
His original plan was to take it as a course to fill a credit but wound up enjoying the class. Josie decided to take a spin class every semester.
Jesse, meanwhile, was a runner.
“Slowly I started running with him and I really enjoyed running as well so it really turned into doing my cycling class and a couple of times a week, I’d run with him,” said Josie. “I just really like endurance stuff.”
Josie’s curiosity about triathlons continued to rise, asking a high school friend about triathlons, and another about a river-guided triathlon in Burley, Idaho called the Spudman Triathlon
His time at Spudman wasn’t as enjoyable as he thought it would be.
Josie failed to qualify, and on the way home, told his wife, Ashlee, he was going to quit triathlon despite just starting.
In the 3½-hour car ride home from Burley to Herriman, Josie’s wife not only convinced him to take up swimming lessons but also convinced him to do the half IRONMAN in St. Louis. George.
Josie’s first time in, the lessons were a challenge.
“I started swimming and I’m sure it was terrible,” Josie recalled with a laugh. “I’d love to see the video he has.”
Workouts consisted of form and technique drills three times a month.
From getting the form down, training progressed into distance swimming.
“It still is (a work in progress). My swim times compared to the other two times don’t quite fit together, ”said Josie.
Since around the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Josie has had the goal of competing in a full IRONMAN.
Also around that time, Josie began looking for sponsors who would be willing to customize a wetsuit and bike equipment to best suit his needs.
His first order of business was to get the bike situation solved.
He reached out to a plethora of bike companies around the globe to see if anyone would be able or willing to help.
His research finally led to his discovery in Bikerumor magazine.
The magazine was featuring an article on a triathlon-specific bike made by Kú Cycle that was made to fit the rider’s measurements.
At first, Josie was unsure of the new bike. In fact, Josie’s bike-fitter had never heard of Kú Cycle, and for good reason.
The company was still getting started across the pond in Europe.
Still, Josie was determined and sent the company an email explaining his situation.
To his surprise, Josie got a response from the CEO.
“He said we’re very interested and we’ll keep you informed. A few months later, he emailed me back and said, ‘we’re ready for you.’ “
Josie went back to his bike-fitter to get his measurements down to find the range that he thought Josie could work with.
Within a few months, Kú Cycle had the bike manufactured and sent to Josie.
Josie next tackled the obstacle of finding a wetsuit that fit his body.
“My torso fits a small in most company sizes, but my legs and my arms are way too short for a small, so I’ve been squeezing myself into an extra small, and it’s very uncomfortable to swim (in). Every race I did I would swim so slow. I’m already not a great swimmer and the wetsuit was constricting my movement so much, I finally reached out to four or five wetsuit companies. ”
Eventually, Josie heard back from DeBoer wetsuits, who would be willing to dress him up in one of their custom wetsuits.
Josie once again went through the process of getting measurements done to customize the wetsuit.
The customizable gear will be on full display on Saturday.
The 2022 IRONMAN World Championships will Josie’s first full IRONMAN.
During the process, Josie said he was surprised at the number of companies that immediately shut him down, saying they didn’t have anything that fit or weren’t willing to customize.
In the last year, Josie has noticed that more companies are starting to offer customized gear.
As he began his journey to becoming an IRONMAN athlete, it never dawned on him that he could wind up being an inspiration for others with EVC or achondroplasia.
“I went into this in 2020 asking all these questions, not even considering that someone like me in the future might ask what I did,” Josie said. “The few times I’ve been asked by other people with dwarfism, I realized like, okay I’m going to have to better represent myself. … I feel like even though I’m not necessarily Instagram famous or an influencer, I know that down the road I’m going to have to represent for people with dwarfism one way or another. ”
Josie will look to become just the second person with dwarfism to complete an IRONMAN race.
In 2016, John Young made history as the first person with dwarfism to finish a full IRONMAN.
Upon reading Young’s story, Josie first had the thought that he could be an IRONMAN.
Potentially becoming a beacon for those with dwarfism, Josie has added there’s extra pressure for him on Saturday.
As far as Josie knows, Young is the only person with dwarfism to complete a full IRONMAN.
The thought of potentially crossing the finish line on Saturday already makes Josie emotional.
Through his journey and all the hardships, being an IRONMAN World Championship finisher means being a leader among a group of voices that are itching to be heard.
“I feel a little bit of pressure now that I have to finish this,” Josie admits. “Like no matter what happens, this is it. I can’t have a bad day. … On the positive side, I feel like this is an opportunity to possibly help other people like me to get into a sport where, looking in from the outside, doesn’t seem like they’re made for it or suited for it. ”
Sean Ellertson is a sports reporter for the St. George Spectrum & Daily News. To continue to support his work, please subscribe to The Spectrum. Follow Sean on Twitter @SeanEllertson.