Each spring, the members of the Andover Cycling team gather for a team dinner to conclude their season. During the event, the riders have a tradition of presenting each other with “gag awards” to celebrate the camaraderie that has developed between them.
Head Coach Thayer Zaeder ’83 has coached cycling at Andover since the 2002 season. Zaeder has worked tirelessly to create these bonds within the team and is extremely proud when he sees his hard work come to fruition.
“Team dynamic is very important and I try to think of how to cultivate that. I am always reminded of how tightly-knit the group has become. It’s a small team… this year we’re only 13… and I think that you’ll probably hear, as a common thread, that there is a really strong bond on the cycling team because they train together, work hard together, and really get to know everybody because [the team] is small… that is very rewarding,” said Zaeder.
Andover practices on public roads, forcing cyclists to break up into small groups, each headed by a separate coach for safety. Zaeder emphasizes the importance of safety during cycling and the coaching staff’s role in ensuring safety.
He said, “The safety of the rider… is our primary concern as a coaching staff. It’s because cycling is inherently a dangerous sport – you’re on a two-wheeled vehicle on public roads – so that’s my main goal at the beginning of every season: to have a safe season. This year is a luxury; we have four coaches, which is the first time ever, really. We’ve always had two or three coaches, so this year it feels really nice to have an extra person.”
Co-Captain David Shamritsky ’17 commented on his coach’s presence in practices and at races. He said, “Mr. Zaeder is the most important coach for keeping the team running. He is the one who always fixes everything – he’s the mechanic, pretty much. I think Mr. Zaeder just has more experience than [the other coaches] and nothing ever fazes him. He is very level-headed. If something happens on the road, he stops, assesses the situation, thinks about it and then acts on that. That’s probably the best thing he brings to the table: his experience.”
Zaeder, who returned to teach at Andover in the fall of 1999 after his time as a student, has plenty of experience in the sport and in coaching. He has been the head coach of the cycling team since the 2006 season when he replaced former faculty member Derek Williams.
Zaeder said, “I was the assistant coach with Derek for a number of years and then, when he got close to retirement, he asked me if we could flip roles so that he could do a little less and I could do a little more.”
Now in charge of the program, Zaeder reminisces about his humble beginnings in cycling.
“The year that Derek Williams started the team – 1980 – I was a freshman,” said Zaeder. “I was on the inaugural team, way, way back. I was terrible. I was just a scrawny kid with no muscle and I raced for two years as a student and didn’t have quite what it took to stick with it. So it was really fun to be able come back to the sport in a different role. I feel that every year I learn more from the athletes and how to coach them well.”
Andover’s cyclists are thankful for Zaeder’s presence and for his decision to return to the sport as a coach.
Shamritsky said, “[Zaeder] goes out every day and spends two hours on the road with us and takes a lot of time out of his life to do that. I would say, and I know this is a cliché, but he’s a very nice guy. He always tries to be as accommodating as possible to other people. If you need help with something, he doesn’t hesitate to help you with it, or if you ask him, he will do it for you. He doesn’t ever think about not doing it.”
Entering his 15th year with the team, Zaeder has seen plenty of riders go through Andover, but some aspects of coaching never cease to excite him.
“As I think back over coaching for more than a decade, there are certainly some riders who were really phenoms, very skilled, and won a lot of races for Andover. Without singling out any one rider, what I always like to see is when a young rider is really pleased with their result. Whether it be fifth [place], ‘I finished in the top ten,’ or ‘I came in second,’ that’s exciting to me: when you see someone really feel like they overachieved, when they really surprise themselves. And that happens every year. It may happen in the lowest tier of racing. That is one of the best outcomes, when you can really see that someone is pleased with what they have done.”