While marathons are more his speed, Ken Zambito, Vice President of Transmission, has run in several OUC Orlando Half Marathons.
Ken Zambito has run in a marathon in every state. He’s run in the most heralded distance races in the country, including the Boston, New York and Chicago marathons. But he has yet to pin a number on his shirt and enter the one competition that’s closest to his heart and home, the Town of Celebration Marathon & Half Marathon.
Like the chef who can never find the time to sit down and enjoy a meal in his own restaurant, Zambito, Vice President of Transmission, just can’t tear himself away from “running” the Celebration competition, which is set for Jan. 30, to actually run in it. Since 2014, the race’s inaugural year, the avid marathoner and Celebration resident has served as the volunteer race director of the event he helped create.
Zambito has his hands in every organizational aspect of the race, from updating its website to answering emails from interested contestants to getting volunteers in place to setting up portable toilets to enlisting sponsors. AdventHealth and OUC are Presenting and Platinum sponsors of the 2022 race, respectively. In spite of all the preparations that go into staging the event, Zambito says race day is a whirlwind of problem solving as last-minute issues arise.
“Stuff happens and you have to respond to it. I would not be able to run in the race and think, ‘OK, everything’s going well,’ ” he says.
Although it has a charitable aspect to it, the Celebration Marathon & Half Marathon was not founded to support altruistic purposes, says Zambito. In 2012, he and a group of runners got to talking about setting up a 26-miler through the Osceola County community but added the 13.1-mile race and goodwill relationships to draw a larger field of participants. Typically, about 500 run in the marathon and 1,800 in the half, with annual race proceeds funding scholarships for Osceola high school seniors and benefitting other causes. Since its founding, the race has donated $363,000 to the Osceola Education Foundation and $272,000 to local nonprofit clubs, teams and organizations.
Zambito’s passion for long-distance running goes back to his days as a cross-country athlete in high school. But he put his competitive desires aside the following 20-plus years until he decided to get back into running shape and enter the 2001 Disney World Marathon.
Then he was off to the races, competing in marathons, triathlons, iron mans and OUC Orlando Half-Marathons. In a six-year span ending in 2015, he completed a marathon in all 50 states, with his best time being 3:24:21 in the 2013 St. George (Utah) Marathon, one of his favorite races because, he admits, “it’s mostly downhill.”
To celebrate his completion of treatment for Stage 4 colon cancer in 2018, Zambito ran in a 100-miler in Hell, Mich., finishing it in 27 hours and 32 minutes.
He hasn’t run competitively in a few years, but he hopes to get back into shape in time to enter the St. George race in October 2022.
As for running in his adopted hometown’s marathon, Zambito can’t imagine that happening as long as he’s race director. Every year reveals something that could be improved upon.
“When the race is over, we get a lot of praise. And that makes you feel good,” he says. “But I could have 99 people say the race was great on social media and one complain about something, and I’ll focus on that.”