The triathlon bug hit 26-year-old Ben Hoffman in college when he joined the University of Montana Triathlon Club.
By the time he graduated in 2006, the team had won the national collegiate championships,
and he was hooked.
After graduation, Hoffman embarked on a triathlon adventure that would take him through the Pacific Northwest and Canada for the next nine weeks, competing in a different triathlon every weekend.
"In Canada, you don't have to have a pro card to win money," said Hoffman.
"Regardless of your status, if you place in the top five, you get a cash award.
"I was able to win enough that summer to support myself ... camping, and racing and training all summer. It was a lot of fun."
To cap his successful 2006 season, Hoffman traveled to Europe to compete in the World University Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland. After the season was over, he thought: "Well, now what am I going to do?"
After thinking about it for a while he decided.
"I'm going to give it a go. I had good enough results that year to submit for my pro card, and I got it," Hoffman said.
Since making that decision three years ago, Hoffman has trained hard and raced himself into recognition with enough sponsorship to allow him to quit his part-time job and focus his full attention on competing and taking his sport to the next level.
"I may not be living the dream life in terms of finances," he said. "I'll be a lot more comfortable and have more support from the bigger sponsors."
As a pro, his race schedule is somewhat flexible, although his current sponsor (Jelly Belly Sport Beans) has a bonus race schedule based on importance, with Ironman events being the higher ranking races.
"They want to see you out there competing against the best in the world. I can set
my own schedule, but have to consider the race level and
cash prize amount to make it feasible," he said.
Currently, Hoffman's preferred distance is the half-
ironman, which typically
includes a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run.
Since he considers swimming his relative weakness, he feels he has enough time on the bike and the run to make up the difference for the time lost in the swim portion.
"I'm still relatively young (as a triathlete), so I think as I get older, the full Ironman is the distance I will focus on."
With the mixture of triathlon distances, Hoffman currently competes in about 12 to14 races per year.
"If I were focusing on the full Ironman distance, realistically, mentally and physically I could do three or maybe four races per year depending on what I was doing in between.
"The way you train for an Ironman, how mentally taxing it is, not to mention how wiped out you are after a big race, I can't imagine doing more than that."
His training schedule consists of about 25 hours per week with as much as 14 on the bike and 10 to 12 split between running and swimming.
A typical week would include 250-300 miles of biking, 45 miles of running and 20,000 yards of swimming. Once he moves into full Ironman training mode, this will come closer to 30 hours per week and last from February through October each year.
This past year, Hoffman has raced mostly half-Ironman events all over the country. He is currently in Hawaii preparing for the Oct. 10 Ironman Triathlon in Kona.
In addition to his many scheduled Ironman events, Hoffman likes to enter local races, and also races on the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory Cycling Team a couple of times a year when it fits into his schedule.
He credits his family as being a big part of his success.
"They are unbelievably supportive and believe that I am going to make this work."
Both of Ben's parents are avid cyclists and got him into biking during high school, touring together in events like Ride the Rockies and Tour of Colorado.
Asked about girlfriends, Ben said, "It's a tough lifestyle for
relationships. I'm pretty self-absorbed, and I'm also gone a lot.
"I had a couple of girlfriends, but as much as people try to understand that, it makes it tough."
For now Ben is enjoying his life and plans to keep going for as long as 10 more years.
"If I stop having fun, I will do something else. It was an unexpected career path, but I am enjoying it."
Reach Marjorie Brinton at email@example.com.