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From the ICU to the World Triathlon Championships: Colorado athlete qualifies to represent Team USA

Ben Bernier needs help getting to Townsville, Australia, to compete
Ben Bernier.png
Posted at 11:16 AM, Mar 04, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-05 12:08:01-05

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — As you enter Ben Bernier's Centennial house, pictures of him with his two children are displayed proudly in the main entryway and the kids' paintings decorate the kitchen.

Ben Bernier and his children.jpg

From the moment you start walking down to the basement, there is artwork featuring bicycling, running and swimming hanging on the stairwell wall.

By the time you reach the landing, you're hit with the sheer number of medals on the walls and window well. And Bernier's girlfriend estimates that's not even half of all the ones Bernier has gotten.

Ben Bernier medals.jpg

"I remember we ran a half-marathon together with some friends from Smoky Hill. And when he crossed the finish line, he gave his medal to the other teacher's daughter. And he's given I don't know how many medals away to children, many at the hospital because he has the race. He has the experience. What it means to him is internal. But when you get to give that away to somebody, for a kid, that's a big deal," his girlfriend, Maureen Elliott, said.

There are weights littering Bernier's basement floor, a treadmill, two different bicycles around the perimeter of the room, and a white board on the wall with the message, "Do 1 more. Do 1% more," written in Bernier's handwriting.

It's a motto that has driven him to compete at the highest level of triathletes.

Ben Bernier running.jpg

Bernier has qualified for theLong Course World Triathlon Championships in Townsville, Australia, this August. The race involves a 1.9-mile swim, a 75-mile bicycle ride and a 18.6-mile run. He will represent Team USA a little more than a year after he had a stroke and nearly three decades after he had his large intestine removed.

But this is actually his second chance to compete in Australia.

In 1997, before he was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, Bernier qualified as a runner for the 2000 Sydney, Australia, Olympic trials to represent Team USA.

But after his diagnosis, Bernier had a surgery to have his large intestine removed.

When he left the hospital, Bernier finished his undergraduate education at Colorado State University — all with a colostomy — a procedure that attaches the remaining colon to the outside of the body.

During his recovery, Bernier found a pair of running shoes — "an old pair of running shoes that I can't just throw away. That's like bad running karma. [I] went for a run. It was terrible, and then went for another one, and then another one, and here we are," he recounted.

In that process of rekindling his love for running, Bernier did strain a calf muscle. But it actually led him to bicycling.

"A buddy of mine at work said, 'Why don't you jump on the bike, come ride with us? We're gonna go do the Courage Classic'... And so I... bought a bike and started riding, found that I liked riding long distances and you're wicked fast on a bike and then realized I'm two thirds of the way towards a triathlon. 'Why don't I start to swim?'" Bernier said.

As he navigated this change in his life, he embraced a new path forward in more ways than one — changing careers from marketing to nursing and moved from Texas, where he lived after college, back to Colorado and got a job at Children's Hospital.

How does a man with a full-time job and two children manage it all?

"I get up early. I schedule and plan my workouts and my trainings around work and around my kids because when I'm around my kids, I just want to be around my kids. They're not going to remember so much the time that dad was on his bike, but they're going to remember the time that I was with them. And that's what it is to me. They're 10 and they're 12. And they're my good luck charms at races. I don't want my training and my racing to negatively impact that time," Bernier said.

Ben Bernier with child.jpg

But in February of 2023, his time with his children, working at Children's Hospital and training for elite races was put in jeopardy. Bernier had a subarachnoid hemorrhage on his brain stem, suffering a stroke, and spending a week in the ICU.

When he was discharged from the hospital on March 1, 2023, Bernier was miraculously able to walk out on his own two feet without any deficits.

"[I] set my sights on a big goal, choosing to aim for the USATriathlon Long Course National Championships at Clash Daytona, December 2023," Bernier said.

That was where he qualified for the world championships in Australia.

Bernier will be one of 18 people on Team USA at the world championships going up against 4,500 athletes from more than 50 nations in total.

He just has one last hurdle to clear before he can compete on this global stage.

USATriathlon suggests — and Bernier has calculated — that he needs to raise approximately $10,000 to cover the expenses of the trip, including:

  • $3,900 for his flight and flying his bike to Australia
  • $3,500 for accommodations and vehicle rental/travel costs for the week he's in Australia
  • $1,500 for registration fees (race entry, international racing license, insurance, etc.)
  • $650 that will cover Team USA uniform and parade clothing

Denver7 Gives has started a campaign to help him afford the trip and focus on the competition.

If he raises more than the necessary amount, Bernier said he will donate the rest to Team Challenge with the Chron’s and Colitis Foundation and the American Stroke Association.

Bernier's pursuit of the world championships has had a ripple effect across his community as he not only regularly pays his success forward to both nonprofits, but he also shares his passion and knowledge of running, bicycling and swimming with others.

His girlfriend set her sights on the Boston Marathon.

"Maybe two years ago, I was like, 'Hey, I really want to go after this. How should I do it?' And he, you know, helped me every step of the way, ran so many miles with me, he did a lot of my long runs and came up with a whole training plan. And was like, 'You can do this.' And, and I ran the Boston marathon last [April]," Elliott said.

Ben Bernier Boston Marathon.jpg

But not only that, Bernier supported Elliott's son in his own race after Elliott had surgery and couldn't be there for her son in the way she normally would've.

Ben Bernier Elliott son.jpg

Another teacher from Smoky Hill High School expressed interest in running his first half-marathon, picking a particular difficult race with a 1,300-foot elevation climb. But Bernier and Elliott ran it with him to help him accomplish such a challenging goal for himself.

"I want to represent an idea that we can do big things. And if your goal is to win the race, set the goal. Go after it," Bernier said.

Colorado athlete qualifies to represent US at Triathlon World Championships

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