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Pro Q&A: Ben Schloegel

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Photo courtesy of Ben Schloegel.
Photo courtesy of Ben Schloegel.

You might be more likely to know Ben Schloegel from a house fire in Kansas City, Mo., than from the triathlon pro ranks. Sure, Ben is a pro, but he’s also a full-time firefighter in addition to being a triathlon training camp director. He’s what you’d call multi-talented. Holly Bennett sat down to talk one-on-one with this well-rounded, all-American, Kona-bound Midwestern boy.

Written by: Holly Bennett

Q: Let’s get this one out of the way right off the bat. Which do you think carries more weight with the chicks: your fireman uniform or your pro triathlete card?
A: The fireman uniform—that’s a no-brainer. First of all, most chicks in Kansas City have never heard of triathlon. Plus, I think the suspenders and bunker pants are pretty much a universal sign of hotness. Of course, when you only weigh 135 pounds, you don’t really fill them out that well!

Q: Firemen are known for being pretty tough. So what scares you?
A: Well, I am definitely tough. I mean I exude toughness. I sweat it out of my pores; I eat a little bit of it for lunch and dinner. But seriously? Women. Intelligent, well-spoken, hardworking women scare the piss out of me.

Q: Do you have group showers at the firehouse? Do you shave down in front of the other guys?
A: Ha! No, we do not have group showers. But I’ll tell you, it has taken years for the guys to comprehend a man wearing spandex and shaving any part of his body. And if one of them gets a hold of this article, it will be posted on the fridge at the firehouse with all sorts of added comments. I don’t think I’ve ever actually shaved my legs at the firehouse. I shave them in my private time at home. I get out my rubber ducky, my aromatherapy bath salts, put on a little Kenny G in the background—I create my own little serenity room.

Q: How do you manage to balance your various pursuits?
A: With firefighting especially, you don’t get to pick the peaks and valleys. There are times where you’re not that busy—you sit around almost hoping for a fire, then all of a sudden you’re out on calls day and night. And because my worlds are so separate, it can be hard. The guys at the firehouse don’t get what it’s like to train to race against Ironman pros. And the guys in the pro field, when they talk about how they had a bad night’s sleep or they picked up a little bug during their taper, it’s tough not to roll my eyes. Oftentimes I’ve been eating firehouse meatloaf, breathing in all sorts of toxic fumes, out on a fire for three days straight—that’s what my taper week might look like! But when I went into firefighting I made the commitment to always give it 110 percent, to never ask for special privileges of any kind. And as much as the guys at the firehouse razz me, they’re also some of my biggest fans, which I know has to do with the fact that I’m right there beside them every step of the way. I don’t bring my training woes to work; I don’t take extra naps or opt out of the tough stuff. Even last year I had a couple of broken ribs from an injury on the job, and I didn’t take modified duty—I just kept working and racing.

Q: You race pro, you battle fire, you coach and mentor—is there anything Ben Schloegel can’t do?
A: I have basically made a career out of overcoming the things I can’t do. I’m not a naturally gifted athlete at all. I can’t swim worth a shizoot! I’m usually one of the last guys out of the water. Most of the guys in the pro ranks swam in college, ran track or cycled. They’re truly talented athletes. I don’t have that natural skill set. I’ve always made my gains off my work ethic and my ability to humble myself. I work hard and I’m willing to put myself out there and get beaten. You can’t have great days unless you participate. But there are so many other things too. Just look at my college transcripts and you’ll see all the things I’m really bad at, especially math and English.

Q: Is Kona in the cards for you this season? Being a fireman, you must be pretty comfortable in the heat of the lava fields.
A: Oh, definitely. If I get cold and wet, I’m done for. I’m really small, so I have a hard time rebuilding my body heat. I love racing in the heat—the hotter and more miserable, the better. That’s always been my strength. This year I’m doing Louisville, Kansas 70.3 and Hawaii—three nice warm ones!

Q: If you could be world-famous for one thing–anything–what would it be?
A: I like the fact that I’m known as a pretty decent guy. Sure, I’d love to be known as Ben Schloegel, badass pro triathlete, winner of an Ironman, if not the Ironman. But I think it’s also really risky to be defined by one thing. I’ve met pro athletes in many sports who have been that way, truly defined only by their sport, and it can be a very shallow life if they don’t diversify their interests and talents. My hope is that I can always keep some balance. So I’ll just be a great guy right now. I’m pretty content.

Q: What are Ben Schloegel’s top five rules to live by?

1) Be good to everyone.
2) Write thank-you letters—the real snail mail kind.
3) Racing is great, but training is better—it’s about the process.
4) Be generous with your time and knowledge.
5) Don’t play with matches.