During the summer I had been working for a Landscape Company, saving up some cash for the fall season. I have been on the same routine for a while: Spring travels, work six weeks through the summer after the Colorado Kayak Circuit is over, and then fly out east to paddle for three months straight. Then work a little more and do it all over again! After four years of this, I finally lost it. I was happy to be paddling as much as I had been, but I felt I needed something, some sort of change in life. This is when I made my decision to call Mesa State College. My degree: Associates in Applied Science in Radiology Technology, with future goals of Radiologist Assistant Bachelor’s Degree.
Ben, decked out in his hockey uniform and protective gear.
© Ben Guska
|It’s hard to maintain a professional kayaking career. Because of its small market and tough schedules, plus keeping up with personal financial obligations and the contractual obligations of sponsors, it can be tough. I was scared of making the decision to go to school and how my sponsors would react to my now even tighter kayaking schedule. I was relieved when all were very happy with me getting an education and pursuing my dreams at the same time.
Then, there was also another catch. I got invited to try-out for the Mesa State Division III hockey team. I hadn’t been on skates in three years, but managed to make the team. This only added to my busy schedule of school, while still trying to maintain a kayaking schedule over the summer.
The first month of school was probably my hardest. I didn’t have a place to live yet, so I was carpooling with a friend from over an hour away, while sleeping on my boss’s couch. When I finally managed to get a place close to school, I had spent all my money on first month and last month and my deposit for rent. I didn’t have a bed, or even a car to try to get to work or school. I was actually sleeping on the floor under my clothes because I couldn’t find my sleeping bag. I would ride my bike one mile to school, then four miles to work. My hockey practice started at 4:10 a.m. three days a week, which really made me exhausted come about Wednesday.
|I soon acquired a car and a bed from my good friends in Glenwood Springs. I was able to maintain grades, play well in hockey and stay on top of bills as the winter came. Hockey really took over most of my free time. I was playing three days a week, with away and home games on the weekends. I was only able to snowboard once this year. I was third leading in points and first leading in penalties and fighting minutes. Ironic because I swear I’m the most peaceful person!||
“Gentle Ben” having a discussion with a player on the other team.
© Ben Guska
As spring rolled around it was hard to get out to even boat. With school pilling up and the hard schedule I had, it was really tough to drive an hour away to go kayak. My first competition was the Reno River Festival Pro Invite. I went to the festival the weekend before my finals. I had half my professors excited that I could go to such an event and half explaining it was stupid and irresponsible of me. I briefly replied to them that there are a lot of things in my life, which many would consider stupid, or even irresponsible. But I do it in a great fashion and make it work! Perhaps this is the attitude that keeps me going!
At Reno I had to study and try to train, as well as compete. It was hard and I didn’t do nearly as well as I had wanted to. But I was very happy in the end on how I did, considering my new circumstances. It was also great to see all my friends that I have boated with for years on end. Once I returned, I did well on all my finals and was stoked that the school year was out!
Ben honing his skills in the white foam of Idaho’s Lochsa River.
|As of now, I have one weekend off to myself. After that it’s game on – full kayak mode. I have four weeks of competing, a week with Team River Runner (a non-profit group to help disabled war veterans learning to kayak to sooth and heal from the past and present wars),and a plane ride to Canada for two months. I will be returning a week late for school, and exhausted I’m sure. Hockey will begin a week after my return.
My key to balancing all of this is simply time management. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, but when looking back and succeeding, it really makes me feel honored to have the motivation to do it. I feel I can make anything in life work, if I truly try hard at it. College, hockey and kayaking, combining it all together, is easily the hardest thing I have had to face in my life! And I’m coming at it head on!