Meet 2021 elite athlete (mountain biking) and engineering student: Ben Gooley.
Ben Gooley is a mountain biker, father of three and studies Engineering full-time at the Australian Maritime College, intending to specialise in Marine Offshore Engineering. This intense workload could halter his sporting dreams yet as he states, “I remain passionate about my sport as it is becoming incredibly popular and new trail centres are popping up all over the world that I can not wait to ride.”
Ben spent his childhood riding around Alice Springs on an old bike as transport to the town. “I never really chose my sport of mountain bike riding.” He remembers the first time he was asked if he would like to take his racing further. “Up till then I had only just ridden for the love of riding and didn’t think I would ever be racing at an elite level”. He trained for 18 months and then raced among some of his idols. In his first proper win, he reflects, “I was lined up at the start line and I felt like a weapon of single-track destruction, after the first fifteen minutes I had built a solid little lead. It was 45 degrees and I have never got myself back out of so many dark places as I did that day.” He won by three to four minutes after that day of 45km of racing. “It was absolutely brutal,” He continues to say that results are only an added bonus to his self-fulfilling sport nowadays. Riding and racing is an activity that is so accessible to those from all walks of life. Riding “allows a deep connection with the country and a feeling of total freedom and exhilaration, rocketing down sketchy goat tracks and dodging wallabies,” he reflects. Alongside the elation of his hobby comes the thrill of competition and Gooley’s favourite atmospheric “red mist that descends on the start line.” Traditionally known to push competitors harder, Ben expresses that the “feeling of knowing that I have pulled every per cent of available energy and ability out of my body is the most satisfying feeling.” After many years of competing in mountain biking, Ben has noticed a major shift in his priorities. Once again acknowledging the lack of total focus over results and instead of practicing how to ride technically challenging terrain.
This shift was greatly a result of his change from Cross Country racing to Gravity Enduro. “Racing the Enduro World series among the worlds fastest and most skilled bike handlers is my absolute sporting dream,” he expresses. This year, he has earned enough points from his 2020 season to qualify for the very limited and high level, Enduro World Series. “I was very excited to make the cut. Unfortunately, most of the races fell in the exam period for Semester One so I had to make the difficult call to not attend this year.” As he explains that his priorities are to provide a better life for his family.
Athletes in higher education can experience difficulties juggling both high-demanding workloads. “I am currently finding that the workload within my degree is quite high. Training tends to take a backseat during the semester.” The AMC is wholly focused on training exceptional engineers. They are encouraging and supportive yet it is not a school to pursue sporting aspirations, Gooley states. Currently, his biggest mental challenge is guilt. The insane amount of time study takes out of the day to take a tiny amount away to ride is difficult for Ben. “I realise that it is important to take some time for me but I just can’t help feeling incredibly selfish.” He has a strong passion for engineering and is committed to successfully completing the four-year degree. Ben believes that University should be just as important as anything else to an aspiring athlete. “Most sports pay horribly, mine included, and have an incredibly short lifespan,” he mentions. Exposure to various forms of exercise, however, has proven beneficial when compared with grade averages. Ben believes that it is important to encourage students and UTAS sport’s “clubs and societies day is a great initiative and the social sports available are fantastic”.
Mountain bike riding is overlooked at how high the professionalism is. Society is used to “ragtag dudes who say shred and gnarly a lot,” Ben laughs. When you talk to the top riders in the game, however, “they are incredibly analytic, critical and resolute in their approach as every per cent is accounted for”. It is an inclusive sport of nearly any age or ability with endless variety in new skills, places and like-minded people. It allows individuals to learn about the limit of their body both physically and mentally. It is an adrenaline-filled, daring and testing sport that pushes comfort zones and gets people out of their shell. If you can race for a whole day or even ride down rocky trails “nothing else seems particularly difficult after that”. Ben believes that riding is the greatest thing you could do. “If my experience inspires someone to try it out I am a happy little shredder”.
We wish Ben luck with the remainder of his degree and his mountain biking passion.
For more information on UTAS social sport mentioned above head to: utas.edu.au/sport/social.
Written by Holly Smee.