It’s not something I talk about often. First of all, Mario Kart rarely comes up organically in conversation and, secondly, my respectable global ranking is a direct result of the worst time of my life.
At age 22, I weighed 365 pounds and was a despondent shell of a human. I had cut myself off from my friends and family, my girlfriend left me because I was so miserable, and I had let my grades slip right out the window along with what little drive and ambition I did have.
So I turned to my Gamecube. The glow from the TV was the only light in my dark bedroom and sad life. I was spending 12 hours a day honing my skills and it paid off as I climbed the leaderboards and gained some respect in the world of Mario Kart.
As good as I was, though, and as satisfying as it was to knock people off the top, I don’t remember smiling once during the year I dedicated to the cause. I was a miserable, miserable person and I couldn’t see a way out. There was no light at the end of the tunnel.
I never had thoughts of suicide, though, I see it more as an ultimately apathetic time. I waited all day to be able to fall asleep at night; I was passing the days away knowing that I’d eventually die a most likely early death.
Looking back now, I feel sorry for my past self. A lot more sorry than he ever felt.
On Christmas Eve of that year, though, I had a moment of clarity. I was sitting with my grandmother in her living room doing a crossword puzzle while I gazed out the window at the snow.
She would occasionally ask for help on a clue and I'd try to help as much as I could, usually to no success—if she couldn't get it, I probably couldn't. She's a brilliant lady. She asked me, though, when she finished the puzzle, how I was doing. If I was happy. In the moment, I assured her I was, that everything was good. She accepted it and wished me Merry Christmas before shuffling off to bed.
But as I tried to get to sleep that night, her questions rattled around in my head and I was finally honest with myself. I wasn't happy and I hadn't been in a very long time.
I felt a sudden rush of inspiration and motivation to do something about my life. Adrenaline kicked in and I finally realized that I could do something for myself. And luckily, the next day the motivation was still there.
So I began to run. And I enlisted my brother Jed to join me.
I ran a quarter mile without stopping.
A week later I did one mile.
And then we ran a 5K.
My dad joined in and we became a team. We did a half-marathon and just kept running. All the way to Denver and did our first Marathon.
Why not keep going?
In Denver, it was decided. We were signing up for an Ironman. So, yeah, it was a bit nerve-wracking to be going for such a huge race, but it beat the hell out of being locked in a room, missing out on life.
Six months later, we found ourselves on the side of the Ohio River in some embarrassingly tight spandex shorts, getting ready to jump into the longest, most exhausting, most exhilarating day of our lives.
And 17, hours later we crossed the finish line together just 12 minutes before the midnight cutoff. We were Ironmen and we were Ironmen together.
As I hugged my dad and brother, the tears came out and we received our finisher’s medals. One hundred and forty miles didn’t mean as much to me as the 18 months it took to get there. I had lost a lot of weight, but the relationships I had forged and reforged were what really made me smile.
And still today, two years later, each time I lace up my shoes to head out for a run, I think about that finish line.
And I’m still a menace in Mario Kart.
Photo Credit: The Fountain
To learn more about Ben's journey, watch this amazing video.