The Darker Side

The upbeat, happy-go-lucky tone I have tried to force myself into with my sporadic and sometimes uninspired blog posts has finally run out. I don’t know if my current state of mind is typical of an athlete on my chosen path, but these past few months have been quite trying.

In May, the last time I was able to race, my results showed continued improvement, and even an acceleration toward my goal of racing, and beating, the best triathletes in the world. Unfortunately, due to a lack of flexibility training (yoga and stretching) and running too much too soon, I was diagnosed with a stress reaction in my hip. This was actually good news because by the time I was able to see the doctor, I had already run myself onto crutches. I was afraid of stress fracture or worse.

I spent June water running and taking care of my laundry list of non-triathlon related endeavors. My attitude was still pretty good, and I was hoping to be back in time to race the Seafair Triathlon (a big local sprint) in mid July. That didn’t happen. I was running, but figured it wasn’t worth the risk without proper preparation (I hadn’t done any intensity on land.) I was bummed to be relegated to a relay at Seafair, but my spirits were still high. I decided to focus on US Pro Nationals, August 22nd. I was done with Biochemistry, enjoying a great Seattle summer, learning to brew kombucha, sailing, watching bald eagles mate while water running across Lake Washington (they cling together in midair and freefall), and spending a good amount of time swimming fast.

Last week my hopeful attitude took another low blow. I took a tumble from the saddle at the end of a training ride. It was one of those low speed falls that end up hurting your body and ego in equal amounts. My wrist was fractured; my hope of competing at US Nationals broken with it.

I’m trying to find a silver lining. A lesson that will make me better. All I can really think of are all the worthwhile life paths I could be on that wouldn’t involve so many lonely setbacks. If I had taken an engineering job when I had the chance, or become involved in Seattle’s transportation planning (still a passion of mine), then a broken wrist would be the least of my worries. My tendency to overwork myself would meet greater success and more productivity, and I would be striving for something that actually makes a difference in the world. The last point is what’s really been bothering me.

I struggle with this even while I’m healthy, but when I’m racing and doing well I can focus on the highs and the love I have for athletic pursuits. The purity of it quiets my fears. When I’m injured I feel worthless. I’m not contributing to society in any measurable way. Sure, I can help market my sponsors, maybe sell some triathlon gear, and coach some people, but I’m not changing the world. Am I suffering the delusion of youth to think I even have that kind of capability? To make life better for people? If not, then am I wasting my time pushing for a selfish goal of personal excellence? If it is a delusion then what can I accomplish? What am I capable of? Does potential lie in something off the field? Where this much work won’t be eliminated by a broken bone? Am I doing the right thing? Why am I a professional triathlete?

Published by Ben

Ben Collins Professional Triathlete

Join the Conversation


  1. Ben, as someone who took that job out of college and didn’t continue racing and competing, don’t give in!

    I understand your frustration, remember when I had to have the wrist surgery in college? I was out of the water for 2 weeks in the middle of the season, and then I was back in the water training with a wet cast for 4 weeks. Yes, it SUCKED. But I’d like to think that I’m a stronger person for sticking with it and not taking the ‘red-shirt’ for the season.

    It is frustrating to see those upcoming competitions slip out of grasp, but it is no better in the corporate world. At least in racing, it is your own body, your own decisions, it is YOU that make the choices and reap the reward or the defeat.
    Not so once you’re “in”, now you might bust your ass and get the most amazing plan, proposal, spec, design out there… but if someone higher up the food chain decides to re prioritize… “POOF” there goes all your work. You lose that control, now, yes. In some cases it’s not like that, but it seems that everyone I know who’s been at it for a while now all have similar stories… There’s a reason Office Space and the Office are so hilarious, it’s true.

    Don’t feel that you don’t make a difference… Think about the weekend warriors like myself, I just signed up for my first Tri which is coming up this weekend. Sure it’s only a sprint, but reading about your exploit’s and adventures has been inspiring, it might help that we used to swim in the same lane… but I can’t help thinking that there are other people out there stuck in cubicle hell that read your posts, see your results and silently cheer you on…

  2. You answered your own question in your last sentence…just take out some letters. move them around and you say, “I am an athlete.”

    We have a gift of physical ability and mental fortitude. While we may find it selfish at times what we do is to push ourselves and others to a new level of achievement. We advance sports, technology, create emotions, inspire and connect.

    You might feel that you are useless when an injury or a setback comes along, you might question your purpose, but it’s not until you look back at what has passed that you will understand. Your broken bones, brused legs, or crushed spirit may be an inspiration to others when you show them what it can lead to. Your immediate short comings lead to a greater purpose down the road.

  3. I can’t believe I read this crap. You’re the only person I think of when I start complaining about stuff and then realize that Ben would find something good about it and go harder. So, buck up – the only excuse I’ve ever seen you had for anything is ‘I had to poop’, so knock it off. Change your schedule – you don’t have to focus on a spring/summer/fall race schedule – get to Aussie and go race a winter down there. You’re thinking the same – think differently and find an opportunity to do something that you wouldn’t have normally found.

  4. Put out small fires around you. Run for a political office. Be a pro triathlete. Quit feeling sorry for yourself. You are about to be surrounded by mortals this week. Life is good.

  5. Dude, Sorry to hear about your wrist, that sucks. I don’t know if you have a cast on, but swimming with a cast is pretty awesome. Everything is doable except for breastroke pull I think. If you do have a cast, I hope it’s pink.

    It seems to me like you have 3 options:

    1. Pity-party
    2. Go off into the wilderness for 4 months. Become awsomely muscular and fit while summiting mountains, building a cabin, hunting for caribou, etc. Return to civilization totally yoked and ready to kick some ass.
    3. Get super good at one-arm pushups and pullups.

    So…I guess I’ll see you in a few months. You can borrow my sleeping pad if you want, and my girlfriend’s brother-in-law should be able to give you some pointers on hunting.

    But seriously, I hope you feel better man. Injuries are tough, if you need anything just let me know. I too feel great passion/anger about Seattle’s transportation issues, so if you would ever like to discuss them I am game.

  6. Dude… you should have said something over the weekend. I could sort of read it in your demeanor, though.

    The grass always looks all lush and green and delicious on the other side of the field. I am always envious of guys like you and Mess who do (or did) go after the sport full-time and to invest all of their efforts in a single purpose that they believe in … and to not “settle” for being a “pretty good” working professional and a “pretty good” athlete, but not truly great at either due to conflicting priorities.

    It’s okay to be a bit down and a bit pissed off right now. You’ve had a horrible streak of bum luck.

    I like to think that such things even out in the long run … but it’s unlikely that all of your main competitors will run into a similar streak. But they will each have some kind of setback to deal with it, and one of your strengths is your attitude and focus and your ability to cope with all kinds of setbacks without getting discouraged.

    So as the short-term funk evaporates, figure out what you can affect right now and just keep doing the right things.

  7. Success:
    To laugh often and love much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!
    ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

    I breathed easier because you were in my life….Thank you! You are success!

    The highly motivated go through life looking for ways to challenge themselves. In your few short years of adulthood….you have accomlished amazing things….becoming a mechanical engineer while being one of the best swimmers in the world, and then became one of the best triathletes in the world, while considering becoming a doctor. You are a good son, a good brother, and a good friend. You will live to 100 years old…you’ve got time to continue to excel at your sport, or change your sport and excel at a different one. You will become a community leader, business man, a philanthropist, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and likely a great and a great-great grandfather. You will succeed at all things you do….for as long as you choose to do them, or can do them. Woody Allen said, “80% of Success is showing up.” Ben you are a master of showing up.

    The closer you get to the top, the clearer it will become that there isn’t any top, just the next step up. God may have given you a stronger mind than a body….but you have taken what he gave you to a level that supercedes even the strongest of men.

    Are you doing the right thing being a triathlete? Heck it was the next thing!
    Why are you a professional triathlete… don’t know how to play golf….YET!

    I was a college football player and quit early because of neck damage. Did I regret leaving the game….not knowing my 3 children…that would have been regret.

    Live your life the way you want to live it……
    Ben Collins once said, “I love doing what I do.”

    Loving what you do is success…and do what you loving doing as long as you love it….or until you find the next thing you love more.

  8. i thought about this today, because court said you guys were having crises.

    #1 don’t lie to yourself and think the grass is greener. there is no job in which you wouldn’t be frustrated, stressed, miserable some of the time. yes, you might not have broken your wrist, but there’s a lot of unhappy people in the world that aren’t professional triathletes. it’s not the profession, it’s just life.

    #2 extended on that, there is no ONE job or choice that is going to be THE answer to everything you want, to your life, to making the world better. you can’t spend your entire time looking for the thing you might be better at, then you’ll never get there.

    #3 to that end, I think, personally, you have an obligation to be the best you can at what you are doing, right now. right now, you are doing triathlon, so do it right.

    #4 you’re doing triathlon right now, because you can, because you are talented, so you should pursue that talent while you are most physically able. you can be an engineer or a city planner any time. you can’t be a professional triathlete any time.

    (as a side note, which doesn’t get it’s own number, giving back/saving the world is not mutually exclusive to being a professional triathlete. it is not a required component, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do what you want.)

    there are plenty of reasons to quit triathlon or to quit anything, but just hoping that the grass is greener somewhere else isn’t one of those reasons.

  9. ben, your body is taking a break right now. maybe you weren’t ready to take that break but this shit happens. bones break, we get slowed down in achieving our goals. it’s like you crawled into a really muddy tunnel knowing that on the other side you’d find bright sunshine and a pretty river and fresh berries and shit but you have to remember that if you take the road less travelled (or a tunnel full of mud and muck), there will be less signs, less people who can relate and certainly more brush that you have to clear out of your way.

    sometimes in the thick of that kind of journey you can’t remember why you pursued such an uncertain path. but if you’ve already gone this far into the tunnel, it will be just as difficult to turn around and go back from whence you came as it would be to keep trudging forward until you can see the end of the tunnel. so stay positive and when your wounds heal, keep going!! you have your whole life ahead of you to keep trying.

    regarding being a good human being, i believe the biggest impact we can make as individuals is on the community around us. find something that makes you feel good and puts you into contact with people who can use your energy and need your help. and yes, do yoga!

    that all being said, i hope you know we’re all here for you buddy and you’ll always be my truest winner’s circle friend.

    much love

  10. Get a part time job!!! That is the best advice for right now. I broke my toe my second pro season. I missed the ENTIRE summer of racing, when I had just bought plane tickets for Puerto Rico and Duathlon Worlds in Belgium. I came back to win SeaFair off of two runs, but it hurt pretty bad. I only finally was able to race decently by Treasure Island.

    It sucks, but it is part of the risk of the job.

    Most, if not all, pro athletes experience this at one time or another. It’s part of the job. just have to find something else to fill your time and motivation with.

    Maybe you should come out here for a week or two, we could hike, run, and ride, and it would get your mind off stuff. think about it.

  11. Okay, so I’m not gonna stroke your ego like everybody else, but I think you’ve come to expect that. Instead, I’ll write a long and tangent-filled post about how inadequate you and the rest of us are.

    Here’s the deal: Everything you wrote — the good and the bad — is absolutely true.

    The path you’ve chosen is at once inspirational and selfish. As you say, there aren’t many triathletes (or athletes, really) out there changing the world for the better (with a few exceptions: For the most part, the triathlon industry is a vacuous, insecurity-plagued, navel-gazing, lawyer-and-middle-manager-filled money pit.

    There’s just no escaping that.

    As I see it, there are three (and only three) good reasons for you to keep going:

    1) You’re running out of time.

    Face it, you’re getting old. I am, too, and getting back in the water was a painful reminder of just how much harder it is to start up again, especially as age grinds us down. There’s a point of no return that’s looming, beyond which all of your effort will merely get you to where you’ve been before — not above and beyond — and as far as I know, we might have even passed it.

    You can pilot a desk, though, at any age. In fact, sitting on your ass and bossing people around is something folks generally get *better* at as they grow older. None of the skills I’ve learned in the working world are things I wouldn’t have been able to learn in another year or five. In fact, I think the lessons learned in athletics (especially training with other egotists) have prepared me better for dealing with the dysfunctionality of the workplace.

    So, while you can enter the workforce at any age, you’ll never be this in shape again. At least, not without an even greater investment (we’re talking years, here) in training. Giving up now means you’ll have to be able to accept your numerous successes thus far as the final tally of your accomplishments in this sport. I’m not so sure you’re prepared to do that.

    2) You enjoy it.

    I happen to know, from spending far too much time with you, that you are one of the few people who can appreciate the *process* of training at least as much as the *product*. That’s a rare gift, and of inestimable value out in the real world (where, as other folks here said, you may never get a chance to enjoy the fruits of your labors). On top of that, you’re *good* at both the grind and the final performance, which is even rarer.

    Trust me, the working world isn’t any friendlier or more exciting, and all the BS about “contributing to society” is just our way of guilt-tripping you into enduring the same soul-crushing boredom we suffer 40 hours each week. Besides, how many of those people (myself included) are *actually* making meaningful contributions to society. Most of the people you’re in frequent contact with are (no offense, everybody!) upper crust dead weight, whoring themselves out to faceless corporations so that they can afford their ravenous American lifestyle. Not participating in the orgy of consumption may be the kindest thing you can do for this planet and its inhabitants.

    Honestly, I know that you would be doing triathlons in your off time, just like most weekend warriors, if you weren’t already doing it full-time. You have fun, which is already more than most people can say about their job, no matter the pay.

    3) Regret is permanent.

    Remember that feeling when your coach forgot to enter you in NCAAs? Remember how hard you worked and how much you suffered and how close you came, just to let the pinnacle slip by you? Didn’t feel good, did it? There is no cure for regret. You just have to wait for time to increase the distance between you and that ugliness. Don’t put yourself in a position where you’ll look back 10 years hence and regret anything.

    That’s it. I’m done.

    Now stop feeling sorry for yourself and be patient. There are setbacks in anything we do, and the lows in athletics are only harsher because the highs are so much more beautiful. You can’t kid yourself into thinking that being a transit planner in Seattle doesn’t have its down days (remember, we got a pathetic 14 miles of light rail after ~30 years of dedicated effort). Nothing good comes easy.

    Chin up, big guy.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *