One of the Choosen

By Wendy Solomon, Morning Call

It’s one of the rare times when Dave Zinczenko is not wearing a well-cut Gucci or Prada or one of the other designer suits that hang in his Allentown pied-à-terre and his loft apartment in New York’s West Village.

That’s as it should be. It’s Africa-hot on this day, and the Men’s Health editor-in chief and vice president is standing in the middle of a cornfield in Maxatawny Township, Berks County, hobnobbing at the Rodale Company picnic.

It’s hard to believe Zinczenko used to wolf down an entire box of Cap’n Crunch cereal in one sitting—without milk. Today he’s the picture of men’s health—a fitting and not coincidental image for the man who heads Men’s Health, the largest publication of its type in the world.

Zinczenko is a Lehigh Valley boy who has seen his share of media glare, as both subject and author. But it’s the dubious distinction of being named last week as one of People magazine’s top 50 bachelors that’s getting him a round of attention, fueled by his publicist, who’s been pitching him for the designation for years.

This sweaty afternoon, the bachelor in the limelight has just consumed an all-American lunch of a cheeseburger and a bowl of chili under an unrelenting sun—but it’s an indulgence he can afford.

Dressed in blue jeans (Hugo Boss), a steel-gray body-hugging cotton/polyester-blend short-sleeved shirt (Calvin Klein), an old pair of Nike running sneakers and even older white crew socks, Zinczenko is a fit, boyish-looking 32.

What he and his fellow People bachelors have in common are good looks, a certain degree of public exposure, and an aggressive handler pitching for them—although Ben Affleck probably didn’t need one.

Zinczenko shares Page 115 of the magazine with John Miller, the 44-year-old 20/20 anchor, and Hall-of-Fame ladies’ man Cary Grant. Not bad real estate.

So how has the exposure affected this single man’s life?

“I don’t think it’s changed me, “ he demurs.

But there was the morning after the magazine came out. He stepped onto the 15th floor of his Manhattan office building and was greeted by dozens of gorgeous models in cocktail dresses, each carrying a rose and placards saying “I speak Italian” and other credentials to try to snag a date. His staffers, the same ones who kid him with “Hey, sexy,” are still laughing over the stunt.

It seems hard to believe Zinczenko can’t get a date. He can. He’s not lonely; he’s just busy.

“I wish I were living the life everyone thinks I’m living,” he says with a laugh.

Zinczenko divides his time between the magazine’s offices at the Rodale complex in Emmaus and New York, with occasional trips to Milan and Paris, where Men’s Health has established offices for its Italian and French editions. He also makes occasional appearances on CBS’ The Early Show, which helps give Men’s Health brand-name visibility.

Most of Zinczenko’s professional life has been spent at the magazine, which he joined in 1993 after a two-year stint at Men’s Journal.

But it hasn’t always been a charmed life for the achiever, who grew up in Allentown and Bethlehem. He and his older brother, Eric, were raised by their mother, Janice Sobieski, after their father left her when the children were small. Money was tight, and Sobieski worked two jobs to support her sons and help pay for their college educations. Sobieski says her son is ambitious and compassionate, the result of seeing the hardships his mother endured.

“I really think he does have that extra-special sensitivity because he knows what I’ve been through,” Sobieski says.

After Zinczenko graduated from Liberty High School in 1987, he joined the Naval Reserve to help defray the cost of his Moravian College tuition.

The boys occasionally saw their father, Bohdan, a photographer and chemical vendor, although the relationship was strained. During Zinczenko’s senior year in college, his father was convicted in a case involving kickbacks to a Whitehall Township official.

Zinczenko dismisses the incident and says it had no impact on his life. If anything, Zinczenko says, it was his father’s obesity and “seeing him winded at the top of the steps” that influenced him. His father died at the relatively young age of 52 in 1999 from diabetic and heart complications associated with obesity.

“Our dad and what happened was a very big motivation for us to stay in shape,” says Eric Zinczenko, 34, advertising director for Outside magazine.

“He’s committed himself to get fit ever since he graduated from college and has been working with these magazines. He’s come a long way.”

Zinczenko shed 45 pounds and now carries a trim 175 pounds on his 5-foot-10 frame. He runs for an hour about four or five times a week or lifts weights and rides a stationary bicycle at the Rodale gym in Emmaus or the Equinox gym in New York. “I love to work out,” he says.

But despite the buff body he worked hard to get, memories of his adolescence weigh heavy on his psyche.

“When I look in the mirror, I still see a fat teenager,” he says.

Zinczenko was always focused and driven, say those who know him. After graduation from Moravian College with a double major in political science and journalism, he pounded the pavement in New York City looking for a magazine job, with his mother waiting outside for moral support.

He took an offer from Men’s Journal, which was in its infancy in 1991, then left two years later when he was wooed by Men’s Health to become an associate editor. At 30, he was named editor-in-chief.

Jeff Anthony, a friend in Allentown, says success broadened him but has not really changed him. Despite his hectic life, Zinczenko still finds time to have dinner with old friends.

“One thing I do find really admirable is that he’s still friends with any woman he’s ever dated,” Anthony says.

MaryKate Brown, who dated Zinczenko about six years ago—and with whom he is still friends—says Zinczenko is the reason she became a teacher. “He believed in me. Sometimes it takes one person to say, ‘I really think you can do this,’ ” says Brown, who teaches first grade at Fogelsville Elementary School. I have him to thank that I stand in front of a classroom every day.”

Zinczenko practices what he preaches. “He was always striving to be the best he could be. It is not a fluke that he is in the position he is in,” Brown says.
But beneath the ambition and success, she says, “He’s just a regular guy. He epitomizes Men’s Health. That’s just David.”

Except now he can take his mom on a dinner date to Elaine’s in New York—and introduce her to Elaine.

This article and its accompanying photograph ran on July 1, 2002, in the Allentown Morning Call. Reprinted with permission. Introductory text by Judith Green.

Photo: Chuck Zovko, Morning Call