Ben Collins: Professional Triathlete

Alumni PhotoAfter graduation from Columbia as a mechanical engineering major, Ben Collins accepted a job with a small engineering research firm in Honolulu, where he worked on developing Autonomous Underwater Vehicles that could withstand full ocean depths to find and retrieve objects from the sea floor.

When he moved to Honolulu, Ben joined a local triathlon club, with the thought of doing a few races and meeting some people.  A year later, he was the second ranked amateur in the nation (ranked first under age 30), and was being recruited by sponsors and coaches for the 2007 season.

“I have always dreamed of being an Olympian, and I decided that the opportunity was worth the risk, so I moved back to Seattle to cut expenses and began my athletic quest to compete in the Olym-pics,” he said. In 2007, Ben won the Amateur World Championship in Hamburg, Germany.  Since the Olympics are no longer restricted to amateur athletes, Ben turned professional to be eligible for the Olympics in Beijing.

“As a newcomer to the sport, the 2008 Olympics were a long shot,” he said, “and I didn’t qualify this year. My focus now is on the London games in 2012. For the next four years I will do everything possible to make sure that when I get to London I’m ready to compete against the world’s best athletes.”

Ben is training to compete in races that begin with a 1500-meter swim, followed by a 40km bike ride, and a 10km run - all in less than two hours. At Columbia, Ben was a record-holding swimmer, which is an advantage in triathlons.

His training schedule typically involves about 40 hours a week of training. “In a typical day, I will get up at 5:15, swim for 90 minutes, eat breakfast, and ride my bike for anywhere from one to three hours before running no less than seven miles. During one recent week, I swam 30,000 meters, cycled 175 miles and ran 54 miles,” he said. In addition, Ben spends an hour stretching before heading to the weight room for strength training. Two days a week, he attends a 90- minute Yoga class, and on two other days, he sees a physical therapist “to counteract some of the damage I’m doing to my body.”

Ben is grateful for his engineering education. “Aside from being able to fix my own bicycle and troubleshoot a finicky power meter,” he says, “I also have a better understanding of biomechanics and technique. After the Olympics in 2012, I intend to return to a professional career, and it is important for me to maintain a grasp on the knowledge I gained through my education and work experience. I spend a large portion of the year traveling to races, and, even when I am home, my schedule leaves only a small amount of time for me to pursue my passions in science and engineering. I’m currently taking a class in biochemistry. To prepare for media interviews, I attend Toastmasters, and I maintain a blog online where I write about my daily difficulties, inspirations, and anything that I find amusing.

“I think I would be happiest if I were able to work for an engineering firm on a part-time basis with the flexibility required by my sport. So beyond the monetary support I need in order to train and race, the greatest help I could ask for is a flexible job with an interesting company (preferably someplace warm!).”

Posted: November, 2008

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