Meet Ben Collins, an American professional triathlete who races as guide and pilot to visually impaired US Paralympian Aaron Scheidies. Ben and Aaron are currently training to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games in Paratriathlon.
Aaron and Ben as Aaron won his 12th National Championship in 2019.
Ben is a 3x New York City Triathlon Champion, winner of the Toyota Triple Crown, and 4x Ironman 70.3 Champion. He was the 2007 ITU Amateur World Champion Triathlete before transitioning to full-time professional in 2008. Ben was a member of the USA National Team for triathlon from 2009 to 2012.
Prior to racing triathlon, Ben was a collegiate swimmer. He holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University and an MBA from The Chicago Booth School of Business. Ben is the founder of Ben’s Muffins, providing all-natural baking mixes that seek to enhance human performance."
Ben has been coached by Mark Sortino since January of 2019.
Where are you based?
I live in Santa Monica with my wife, Abby, who is an MD doing her residency in General Surgery. We have two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Odin and Charlie. They are the smallest Ridgebacks I’ve ever met, weighing in at 70 pounds.
Are you working full time as a professional triathlete and CEO of Ben's Muffins right now?
After 2017 I decided to step away from full time racing, as it was taking a toll on my body and I wanted to see what else I was capable of in life. My primary goal right now is to win gold in Tokyo with Aaron, and while doing that and making muffins could easily consume all my time, I actually have a day job, working for a financial company.
What prompted you to create Ben's Muffin mix?
I started Ben’s Muffins to ensure I was getting nutrient dense food with complex carbohydrates and protein that would ensure my energy levels were maximized for training and racing. The surprise to me was learning how important low glycemic-index foods are for everyone, not just athletes.
The bottom line is, when you eat simple carbohydrates it spikes your insulin and tanks your blood sugar. That’s bad regardless of it you’re walking into an important meeting and trying to stay awake, or getting ready for a race.
That said, when I’m nervous on race morning I won’t eat enough if it doesn’t taste great. A microwaveable muffin solved the problem. It’s fast to make, delivers the nutrients I need and tastes great. It’s also versatile, so I don’t get bored. I can make it with peanut butter one day, blueberries the next and sweeten it with Chocolate Chips after that.
My goal with the company goes beyond microwaveable muffins. I want to create foods that taste amazing, make you feel amazing, and don’t use any weird ingredients to do it.
Have you worked as an engineer, and if so, what did you do?
I worked for an academic startup in Honolulu where I designed autonomous underwater vehicles. I was there for a year after college, and it was during that time I started racing triathlons.
You recently returned to professional racing, finishing 2nd at the Herbalife24 Triathlon Los Angeles race. What prompted that decision to come back to pro racing? Had you been racing age group or only racing with Aaron?
I wouldn’t call it a comeback. My focus is on guiding Aaron right now, but while he was recovering from surgery I needed something to motivate my training. I LOVE racing, but training is a means to that end – without a race on the horizon I have trouble staying motivated.
LA Triathlon is one of those race courses that truly lets you experience something unique – racing through a major city with closed streets, an ocean swim with surf, and a finish line at LA Live. With the start line about a mile from my apartment, deciding to race was easy. Finishing third validated that my fitness is on track to where it needs to be.
I also don’t foresee myself racing age group. I’m still capable of competing against the best, and if I’m going to race, that’s who I want to be measured against.
You have the opportunity to race solo and also as a guide/pilot for Aaron Scheidies. What do you like about racing as a guide? What are some of the biggest challenges for you as a guide?
I prefer racing as a guide because the teamwork is fun to me. Racing with Aaron is much more dynamic, and there’s never a dull moment in para sports. Pretty much the only thing I can guarantee going into a race is that something will go wrong and we will have to figure out how to get past it if we are going win.
Aaron is an awesome partner. We’ve been racing together for over a decade, and with that comes a pretty strong bond. Still, we are continuously working to improve things like communication. It really is like a marriage.
Any funny/interesting stories to share about racing with Aaron?
Endless. One thing that surprises people is his lack of tidiness. You would think someone with a visual impairment would be extremely organized, but that is not the case with Aaron. When we go into a hotel room I give him the window side of the room because his stuff explodes immediately until the entire room is covered. What’s incredible is how rarely he misplaces something. It’s chaos, but perhaps it is organized.
Let's talk about your individual racing -- what are your strengths in the sport?
What I realized is the only strength that matters is getting to the finish line in the shortest amount of time possible. Having an ego about any individual leg of the race can get in the way of the bigger picture. I see it all the time with strong swimmers (like myself) who go WAY too hard in the beginning because their self-perception is tied to how they do in the swim. When I figured out that “losing” the swim or the bike could mean winning the race, it helped me to race my own race – that helped for “getting to the finish line first” to become my strength.
What are some areas that you are working on?
Racing with Aaron it’s all about details. Where can we save a second or two? We have changed our transition routine, how we mount and dismount the bike, we work on who takes the tether and when. On the bike we keep improving our position, how we corner, and how we communicate. Swimming in a race is always different from training, so we work on buoys and drafting off another team and we practice having things go wrong. Same on the run - what cues help Aaron focus, how do we communicate effectively – all of that matters immensely.
What prompted you to train with Coach Mark Sortino?
Mark as been working with Aaron for years, and it’s helpful to have a coach that understands the entire team. My life is also different from a few years ago, and Mark understands how to balance life with this level of training.
What are your personal racing goals?
Win gold in Tokyo. Be the best guide and teammate possible. Come home from the Paralympics with no regrets and nothing else I could have done to better prepare.
What is your favorite race distance?
I’ve raced pretty much every distance from super sprint to Ironman. Hands down my favorite distance was the Super-Sprint Grand Prix. It’s a 300m swim, 8km bike and 2.5km run, and you do it twice through without stopping. One year, during Interbike, they set up the race in Vegas by the strip where we raced the finals under stadium lights. It was the most fun you could ever have in a triathlon. Also the most painful. I think shorter races take a lot of talent, and really distinguish athletes. Longer races become more about nutrition and hydration.
What race(s) would you like to do that you haven't yet? Or are there other sports you'd like to try competitively?
My outdoor interests are much more tilted toward adventure these days. I took up mountain biking, trail running, and backcountry skiing. After the Paralympics I’ll likely do more mountaineering. The fitness you get from triathlon can be applied to so many things. I’ll never stop swimming, biking and running, I’ll just use that fitness for adventure pursuits that don’t have an entry fee or a finish line.
What advice do you have for those new to the sport?
First: Triathlon is a ton of fun, and the multisport community is made up of some of the most inspiring and kind people. Enjoy yourself, set goals, and be part of the community.
Second: no single workout is going to make or break your race. It takes consistent training. The most outstanding training blocks I’ve had did not have a single outstanding workout. So don’t get stuck on doing everything perfectly, just allow yourself to be consistent. Success will come.
Thank you, Ben! All the best to you and Aaron in your preparations for Tokyo!