Hank Garnaat calls exercising with his kids on Zwift the ultimate form of fatherhood
“I saw my bike buddies start using Zwift, but I couldn’t care less,” he admits. The accounting firm partner from Benthuizen, a small village in The Netherlands, was content with TrainerRoad and the Wahoo KICKR V1 smart trainer he purchased in 2014. Hank Garnaat successfully rode the fitness gains to become an IRONMAN in 2015.
Hank has fond memories of carrying his young son Daniel, then 1.5 years across the finish line in Lanzarote, Spain. Overwhelmed with joy, he was unare it would celebrate the commencement of a bond between father and son forged by a love of physical fitness and Zwift.
The young father became increasingly passionate about indoor training and, in 2021, upgraded to a Stages Smart Bike. It immediately piqued his son Daniel’s curiosity, and he thought back to the 2019 Zesdaagse 6-day track race he had attended in Ahoy Rotterdam with Daniel.
The former Tour de France rider Leon van Bon hosted a Zwift demonstration. Daniel had to do it! The prodigy pedaled feverishly perched on the top tube with the saddle removed—the only way he could reach. At five years old, he displayed a talent and desire far exceeding his age.
When Daniel, then seven, climbed atop the new smart bike Hank purchased for their home, it reminded him. He set up a trial Zwift account, and his little boy rode for 25 km straight loving every second.
“From that moment on,” Hank recalls, “we were both caught by the Zwift bug.” He equipped the attic in their house with a Wahoo KICKR smart bike for himself and the Stages bike for Daniel so that they could ride together.
Zwift quickly became Hank’s primary training tool, frequently riding with Daniel if he chose to join. “He likes to ride with the RoboPacers,” he says of his young son, “and especially likes to give “Ride Ons” to other riders and is happy as a child when he gets one in return.”
Hank describes his son’s virtual cycling evolution as organic and natural. “He is motivated and took the initiative,” he explains, “after seeing me riding, that was example enough.”
The game element entices Daniel. He enjoys battling for segments, passing other riders, and getting as many XPs as possible. Upgrading his bike and wheels and customizing his avatar are integral to the experience.
“You see that a child experiences things like this very differently,” observes Hank. “The ‘play’ element is very important to him, and that’s totally fine.”
Hank is also okay with Zwift being a significant part of his son’s life because it has helped Daniel become more well-rounded. Daniel wants to participate in school athletics and at the local sporting club. Hank watches as Daniel learns how to deal with losing, develop tactical insight, and, most importantly, make new friends.
“Zwift is a natural part of life for him,” shares Hank. “It is sport and competitive, and very fun to do! I don’t think he even thinks about it.”
Hank has given his son’s safety a considerable amount of thought. He is thankful to Zwift for the foresight of offering free accounts to children under 16 and the added restrictions. Riders with a kids Zwift account can’t chat with other riders when riding in-game, and when in group rides, they can only see the leader and sweeps chat. Children’s profiles are private, so users must request to follow them and view their activities, age, ride stats, and other personal information.
“Riding with adults is no problem at all,” he explains. “In fact, everyone reacts very positively. For example, when Daniel participates in a group ride, other riders see he is “U12″. Everyone thinks it’s fantastic, which encourages him more.”
Hank heartens his son to challenge himself without pushing him. He carefully monitors his interactions and gauges his physical exertion and competitiveness. He likes using the motto, “You win, or you learn,” in his parenting approach.
“I always say that everything is possible and allowed,” he shares. “As long as he gives it his all, the result is unimportant.”
Hank continues: “I think at this age, if you start taking things very seriously right away, you are going down the wrong path. Let the kids have fun. The rest will take care of itself!”
The proud father can’t underscore the impact sharing a love of physical activity, and Zwift has had on him.
“When I first started cycling on Zwift with Daniel, I was overwhelmed with pride and got goosebumps,” he shares. His son’s enthusiasm fuels his motivation to train and remain physically fit and active to share the bond of Zwift for years to come.
“It doesn’t get much better than that for me,” he adds.
The father and son talk about Zwift daily, and he can’t envision their lives without the mutual experience. Hank urges other parents to take the opportunity to feel the same.
“I recommend other parents to let their children try Zwift. They find the “play element” fantastic, increasing their motivation to move forward. Above all, let them do as they please, and you will see that they will amaze you!”
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!