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Beta Tester Spotlight: Greg Gibson "Mayor of Zwift Island"

on February 02, 2015

On October 28th, 2014, we sent out our first 50 Zwift beta invitations. One by one riders started logging in, downloading the game, and taking it for a spin. We saw a few people test the waters, including Greg Gibson. It was very exciting times!

Co-founders Scott and Eric were riding the next day when they were suddenly joined again by “G. Gibson.” We didn’t know who he was or what his story was, but he went on to ride for a good 1'30". All of us in the office watched him ride that day, and from that point on, Greg made himself a very prominent member of the community, always either riding in game, posting feedback, or helping to answer questions on the forums.

We recently sat down with Greg to get to ask him about how he got so involved in Zwift’s beta process.

Z: You were one of the first non-Zwift employees to be a beta tester in cohort #1. What drew you to Zwift?

G: I first heard about Zwift during the media launch in early October. I was hooked immediately and read every article I could find on it. Having spent the past two winters doing a lot of indoor training, Zwift was a no-brainer. I was all over anything that would make indoor riding more social and less tedious. The idea of being able to ride virtually with other people really resonated with me.

When I received my invite on October 28th, I immediately downloaded the software and logged in. I didn’t have time to ride, but I wanted to see what it was all about. I ended up riding two laps in street clothes and sneakers and was blown away by the realism of the sound, graphics and feel of riding on the Island.  My Strava post title for that ride was “Zwift Island - Exploring New Lands From My Basement!

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Now instead of watching movies, I can organize group rides with friends.  Even though they are just pixels on a screen, there is something oddly comforting in knowing that other real, live people are right there sweating alongside you - albeit in the comfort of their own homes - in this virtual landscape known as Zwift Island.

Z: We understand that you’re also a photographer with 30 years experience under your belt. What initially got you into that?

G: Well not to start the interview off on a downer, but I became a photographer as a result of the passing of my father. When I was a senior in high school, my dad suffered a massive stroke. That year, my mother told me that I could have anything I wanted for Christmas that year – within reason.

I was driving around in the country one afternoon and saw some people photographing an old house. I thought that looked fun, so I asked for a 35mm camera for Christmas. The rest is history, as they say.

When I was 22, I was offered a rare opportunity for someone with my limited experience – to become the picture editor for the state of North Carolina for United Press International. A few years later, I ended up in Washington, DC working as a staff photographer at the Associated Press.

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Z: In the office we have dubbed you the “Mayor of Zwift” not only for the sheer amount of hours you have put in, but because you have also been a key cornerstone in the community. What have you enjoyed about the Zwift Beta?

G: I’ve really enjoyed seeing guys like Zwift developer Jon Mayfield active in the support forums and witnessing feedback from the beta group take shape in the game itself. One point of personal pride for me is that the “Col d’Zwift” and the “Deliverance Hill” segments on Zwift Island originated from Strava segments I created.

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 Z: How did you find cycling?

G: I started cycling way back in 1987 with a Trek 2500. Not unlike many people, I got heavily involved in my career and starting my family. Opportunities for cycling diminished.

Also not unlike many people, I found myself at a point where my weight had increased dramatically. While my overall health was good, I was at the age where I needed to pay more attention to it. I stepped on the scale one morning and found myself at a whopping 275lbs. I decided to do something about it.

In July of 2010, a couple of my friends were training for a two-day charity ride and invited me along on one of their training rides. I probably hadn’t ridden my bike in at least 8 years at that point. I pulled my trusty Trek 2500, complete with downtube shifters, out of the attic, blew off the cobwebs and pumped up the tires. I was in pretty good shape from P90x so I tagged along and rode about 45 miles with them. It was a blast. It made me remember all the things I loved about cycling.

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Jeremiah Bishop Alpine Loop Grand Fondo

Within a week I bought a used bike with STI shifters on Craig’s List. I started riding more and more. Pretty soon, cycling became my sole form of exercise. Last spring, while training for an event, I got my weight down to 175lbs; so over a four year period, I lost about 100lbs primarily from cycling. My wife jokes that I lost a 10 year-old. I weighed 185lbs when I graduated from high school so I can say I weigh less now than I did then!

Z: What is it that you love about cycling?

G: Cycling is my escape. When I get on my bike, whether on Zwift or in the mountains of Virginia, I let go of all my stress. I forget about work and all those other little things. I [also] love doing group rides with friends and all the camaraderie that goes into those.

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Skyline Drive in Virginia Fall 2014

Being a competitive person by nature, I also love that at 52 years of age I can still compete on the bike in some way or another. Whether it’s just sprinting for the town line sign on a club ride, trying to achieve a personal best climbing up Skyline Drive, participating in competitive “fondo” rides, or racing in actual sanctioned events, anyone at any age can find a way to challenge themselves on a bike.

Z: The Pulitzer Prize is the highest honor in journalism, and we’ve heard that you have two! What projects were they for?

G: I have a piece of two Pulitzer Prizes but I didn’t win them on my own. They are shared awards with some of my colleagues at the Associated Press for coverage of big stories we worked on. The first was for coverage of the 1992 Presidential Campaign between Bush, Clinton, and Perot. The second was in 1999 for coverage of the Presidential Impeachment and the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

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President Clinton at the door of the Oval Office

A funny but relevant story is that on the day the Pulitzer winners were announced in 1993 I was off and had been out riding bikes with my wife. We didn’t do a lot of cycling then, but it was April, so we went down to the tidal basin in Washington to see the cherry blossoms.

When we got home, there was a bit of a cryptic message from one of my co-workers on my answering machine saying something about winning a Pulitzer. I didn’t even know the company had entered the competition on our behalf, so it was a complete surprise!

I have always known that whatever success I have achieved as a photographer was a result of the loss of my father – from getting the camera in the first place to many of the job decisions I had to make. I think in many ways that has, perhaps even unconsciously, motivated me to excel, to dream big, and go the extra mile.

Z: What are some of your personal cycling achievements?

G: When I started cycling back in 2010, I was a low “B” rider in my club. As I lost weight, I found I could hang with the low end “A”s. A year later, I was one of the faster A riders.

In 2012, I wanted to challenge myself a little more and started entering some of the competitive Fondo rides. The first one I did was the Assault on Mt. Mitchell, one of the oldest organized rides in the US. AoMM is a 102 mile ride that finishes with a 20 mile climb up to the summit of Mt. Mitchell – the highest point in the US east of the Mississippi.

The first time I did AoMM I had no real expectations, just a loose goal of finishing in 6:30. In truth that goal seemed a little far-fetched to me, but it was something to shoot for. I actually finished in 6:19! I had the time of my life on a bike. A week later, I did another ride called “Mountains of Misery.” MoM is a 101 mile challenge ride that finishes with a very steep 6 mile climb. The last 3 miles average about 12% grade. I finished 23 overall in that one with a time of 6:01. My goal for AoMM is under 6 hours, so I am giving that one another go this year, but never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined doing MoM in 5:30 and finishing top 10 overall. It was pretty exhilarating to achieve that goal.

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Early 2014 race season

I started doing some USA Cycling sanctioned races in 2013 with moderate success transitioning from Cat5 to Cat4. I’ve had a few finishes in or near top 10 and one podium finish with a 3rd place in an event considered a “climbing” race. At 185ish pounds, I am certainly not a natural climber, so it was really rewarding to podium in that one.

As someone who was almost 100lbs heavier four years ago, my biggest cycling achievement is maintaining my weight loss and overall fitness. For a 52-year-old I am in excellent condition and certainly carrying the best fitness of my adult life.

Z: You’ve traveled all over the world shooting presidential campaigns, wars, hurricanes, and the Olympics to name a few. What was the most challenging assignment for you?

G: Covering the first Gulf War. I went to Saudi Arabia two weeks before the ground war began and stayed in the area for almost two months. Post-war Kuwait was a challenge in that we were living in a 5-star hotel but -- at least initially -- had no running water and no electricity. All the doors in the hotel had been kicked in, and the rooms were robbed of any electronics of value, so you couldn’t lock your door.

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Iraqi tank, left in Kuwait desert. G.Gibson center.

 

Z: You now shoot a large variety of subjects, including weddings, kids, corporate events and many more. What sparked that transition?

G: I left journalism in 2000 on a two-year sabbatical. I was just a bit burned out from coverage of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the tabloid-ish feel of that story. I felt I had lost my passion for journalism, and it was time to try something else. I truly believe that we can only be successful in things we are passionate about.

As my leave was expiring, I found that I had really enjoyed being able to spend more time at home and be a part of my children’s lives. I made the decision not to return to journalism and sought a more family friendly career.

Around this time, there was movement in wedding photography called “wedding photojournalism,” Wedding photojournalism was more about storytelling and capturing real moments throughout the day rather than the trite, corny, and staged imagery that had dominated wedding photography in the past. I found this a perfect fit for my skill set and dived in.

What I have found is that what we do as wedding photographers is just as important within a family unit as what I was doing in journalism. I am providing a family with more than just simple pictures. I am providing them a timeless heirloom of family connections from one of the happiest times in their lives. What do people turn to in times of loss or need? They turn to photographs to rekindle and spark memories of moments and events that have happened in their lives. I have received notes from many of my clients telling me how much comfort they received from their wedding photographs during times of need or the loss of a loved one. This is what makes it worthwhile.

As proud as I am of participating in two Pulitzer Prize-winning stories, I am equally as proud of being named one of the Top 10 Wedding Photographers in the World by American Photo magazine in 2011. It’s something I did on my own, and it was great to receive this recognition for my wedding work as well.

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Shooting in Brazil

Z: Any last words?

G: Are you kidding? Of course!

One thing I want to say is that I find the social aspect of Zwift very interesting. I have my local group of riding buddies that I see and ride with often. At the same time, I have also developed a second group of riding buddies through Strava. Now I am developing a third set of riding buddies within my Zwift network. I find it very cool to log into Zwift now and see 60+ riders with names that I recognize. Of course, there are [also] the big names like Jens Voigt, Ted King, Taylor Phinney, etc. It’s awesome to have the opportunity to try and grab a wheel with one of these guys when they are on. You just never know what the story may be behind that rider whose wheel you are drafting when riding on the Island.

Zwift has actually made me look forward to riding indoors. Many people I’ve corresponded with say that they have ridden more miles this winter than ever before, due in large part to the camaraderie they experience riding on Zwift Island. I certainly am about to wrap up this month with the most miles I’ve ever ridden in January.

Zwift is opening a lot of doors for the average cyclist. The possibilities are endless and I’m truly appreciative of the opportunity to be a part of this early history.

Ride On!

The Early Days over 5 years ago