Digging into the Next Chapter

Since finishing second place in the US Olympic Trials, I have to admit it’s been a tough swallow.  I don’t lose very well, I don’t like to complain either. But one of the big challenges I always faced was raising hundreds of thousands a year while competing full-time. It was and will probably always be the hardest thing I have ever done. I’ve been fortunate to make it as far as I have come: US #1 for 7 years, 2008 Olympic Team and 2X alternate.  All things have never been equal, winning budgets internationally for winning medals are 500K plus per year, and through long and hard work I’ve typically outperformed those with 3-4 times my annual budget. So I will spend a good portion of my time this year focusing on redeveloping the US Olympic funding system as well as continuing to pioneer athletes rights internationally. I know most athletes don’t want to talk about how much they have had to suffer to make their dreams come true, but I will start to share with you and the world what makes a US Olympian do truly remarkable feats to make it and what I hope to change to best support the next rising stars.

Those change goals this year include:

1)  how the United States Olympic program funds it’s Olympians and Olympic Hopefuls

2)  find a new career for myself while continuing to support my nutrition business (with a focus on global fortune 500 companies)

3)  increase athletes rights in Sailing around the world

I’ve spent the last 5 years or so getting elected to leadership positions, I chair the Athletes Commission of the International Sailing Federation and have secured the first ever Board of Directors position for athletes, representing 10K plus athletes around the world.  I’m also on the USOC Athletes Advisory Council which I’ve co-founded the resource allocation task force to address USA specific funding concerns and direction.  This year I will use those positions to the best of my capacity to make lasting change to the Olympic movement.

Perth US Olympic Trials- Broken board, DSQ, Captain Crash

Racing home in Perth

It was over before it began.

I’m second place.

How disappointing.

I felt robbed.

But I’m still smiling.

Because I do this for fun.

And there is always more to come.

Thank you for all your support I couldn’t have done it without you.

Time for some new challenges!

Tick Tock

The clock has ticked. The time has come.  Today is the start of my final chance to win the US Olympic Trials at the World Championships, here in Perth, Australia.

I won’t let up, I won’t accept defeat, I will fight as a honed, prepared and fearless competitor with no mercy.  This is it, as real as it gets. And no place I’d rather be.

But the mind can only take an athlete so far.  The preparation and technical needs this campaign now requires has made me eat a lot of humble pie this year. I’ve had to work extra hard for things that most of my competitors already have, to just get here.

But at the starting line today at 12:30 we are all the same.  Our worth determined in the next 12 races.  I should be set for a splendid show.  This is my first time since the 2008 Olympics to prepare for an international event with a similar protocol.  Everything goes into this event. If I get past this I make the US Olympic Team.  I’ve got a lot of explaining to do, and it will all be on the scoreboard today.  Visit www.perth2011.com for live scoring.

One more lesson learned that I must share:

Help those less fortunate than yourself.

For all those people that have helped me get here because you dreamed with me in my dream, and helped me become better. Thank you.  I surely will live on that ethos and ask those reading this to think of ways to help those less fortunate than yourself. Whether it be a friend, loved one, co-worker or stranger. It feels good to be empowered and serve others. Competition is a fierce game, winners are forgotten at their last finish.  Champions build more than themselves, they create something for future generations.

In case you missed it, all the details of my comeback the last 8 months and where I spent $70,000 can be found online at my website: www.benbarger.com

So you want to goto your second Olympics?

The Olympic Venue

In May this year, I had what I needed to make a very short 3 week comeback to win the first section of the Olympic Trials in Weymouth, England.  I was ready to buy lots of new gear to test it all out. But, uh oh, the manufacturer was out of stock,  and there is only one manufacturer. But at least they had new fins, so, I bought 4 and started doing my scientific method. By the time I got them it was a week before the trials started.  While testing my gear in Weymouth, my fast mast snapped which was also the mast I used to win the last trials.  Testing between my “Old Glory” and the newer sail that I suffered with in Miami showed that “Old Glory”, was the speedier one so I thought.  But, I wasn’t so sure which mast was faster.  Now, if I  know my 10 regatta old sail is faster than a 10 day old sail, I should have put it in the rubbish bin!  But, no, I raced the first Olympic trials on “Old Glory” because that’s all I had and was probably feeling sentimental with it.  And, yes, it was pathetic to say the least. I couldn’t hold my line. I was slow and I pushed so hard on the starts that I got 2 OCS’s (premature starts) in qualifying sealing the deal for me to have an all time worst regatta in Weymouth.  I was fuming at the time. Should I just quit or figure out this game again?  Nope, things were turning around, and starting up a nutrition business was supporting some of the “day to day” expenses. Plus, I still hadtime and money left from the first fundraiser to figure out exactly what went wrong.

So I spent the next 2 months in Weymouth, England testing equipment for the second Olympic trials to take place in Australia.  I did not buy any new sails but, I was able to test the daylights out of my new fins.. My newer Miami sail was clearly faster, but with a different mast!  My Weymouth trials fin was second slowest out of 6 I had. But one fin was impressively fast, so I put that one away. I still wasn’t pointing  very well. But my board was fast. I tested it against others and it was a quick one.  I was getting it figured out finally, and feeling like I really had a viable chance of still winning the trials.

Tuning forks please!

After leaving Weymouth, I went to Bermuda for more training and to work on starting up the new business. Later,I went back to Italy for more training i.  It was good to finally be somewhere warm again!  In Italy my preparation was for the European championships in Bulgaria where I was ready for light wind.  Little did anyone know that it is actually a windy venue. The forecaster and 4 friends that had raced there advised me

Racing at the European Championships

it was super light.  So, I had left my best gear in Italy, because airlines are known to destroy our precious windsurfing gear with careless bag handlers that like to surf it down the ramp onto the tarmac .  Needless to say, it blew 15-18 everyday. I was screwed. I was going as slow as dog poo and the only shipment of gear was taking ages to arrive. .  I finally got a new sail. Wow, is what I said when I rigged it. This looks fast. It had a very fat leading edge. I put it on my only mast that I had brought and on the water it went way faster than my other sail.  I was competitive. But my fin was still slow so I bought a new one of those.  I finally had world class speed on port.  Remember, in sailing you have to go on both starboard and port tacks to get to the first mark. So, I tried twisting the fin in the fin box but still couldn’t get it to balance out.  Still on this set up, I tied my personal best at the European championships, some 33 positions ahead of my final score in the Weymouth World Cup and Olympic trials.  I’ve never focused on European races, nor am I a European, I don’t peak at every event I attend. I don’t have that kind of time, money or team.  But I can peak for key events well which are the Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games.

Right after the conclusion of the European Championships, I came back to Italy for the Italian Championships.  Air Italia had lost our gear again and it was going to show up..half way through the regatta.  So I borrowed gear once again, but had with me my fastest fin.  I won the

Winning the Italian Championships

opening 5 races with that fin, and that borrowed sail was a quick one too; but, I had to give that back.  How frustrating!  Next day my new Bulgaria sail arrived and I put it together with my fastest mast.  Wow, two more wins with even more speed.  Ok, that’s a fast sail.  It was my benchmark Olympic trials sail now.  A few more weeks of training went by in Italy and then I headed back to England for more cold, windy and wet weather. And boy did it blow. Most days 20+.  I bought another sail and started testing that one. It clearly was slower and much more shallow, but these sails need some breaking in time as well. My Bulgarian sail, aka “Big Bulge” was at the 10 days of use mark and if I used it for the trials I didn’t want any more than 15 days on it. It affects pointing and speed that much as I learned from driving “Old Glory” into the ground.  I found a new combination with a new mast, and added another nice twist to the sail, I measured it all out as well and tested it on the water.  I made great headway.  Arguably, the world’s best wasn’t putting any distance on me anymore.

Operation boomerang

Perth, Australia might as well be the furthest place away from America.  Friendly people, big outdoors, roo’s, boomerangs and toilets that spin the other way.  Ok, so imagine coming to the airport to leave for Australia with huge flying saucers and saying yeah we’re going to need to check this in.  Yes, I had tons of gear and all my fastest equipment to bring to Australia.  Usually, airport personnel panic, calling supervisors and otherwise asking weird questions like, “What’s in there, Gadafi?” . The price fluctuates from free to my highest of $450, not bad considering doing this for 10 years.  So, they weighed my gear this time which isn’t normal at all. Then they quoted me a price of $6000 USD for me to bring it with me one way. A first class ticket for a fat person weighing double my gear weight is less than the price for my gear to fly to Australia.

I then asked for his supervisor and he “was” the supervisor.  An awfully awkward moment occurred which was me sorting out in 20 minutes how I was going to get my gear to Australia to win the Olympic trials and not miss my flight and lose the thousands of dollars ticket to rebook.  And, yes, I read the baggage carriage policy.  He said that it says right (somewhere he pointed which was 7 pages ahead of where it says they take windsurfing gear) there. I gave him the best emotional plea for help I’ve dished out for years. Still he definitely didn’t care.  So, I went to a

Board DRAMA!

shipping service for excess baggage and they assured me they could deliver it for much less, only $700, to ship it down there! But that would take a week, I couldn’t be without training for a week this soon before my Olympic trials.  I took out my running shoes, and checked into the airline where they would give me 23 kilos of free space for any bag. I checked in my 1st to 3rd fastest gear until I was at the 23 kilo limit.  All I had to wait on while in Australia was my board, but no problem, I had a back up board already shipped down there!  I literally showed up in Australia with the shirt on my back and my windsurfing sails and masts.

So 7 days transpire and I finally get my board in the mail. On arrival and inspection the front half is limp. The board had been forklifted in half. Split in two pieces, my fastest board was a goner . My dreams of winning these trials were also looking grim. As I learned in the past regattas, my gear was my main limitations in the breeze and now my best board was destroyed by incompetent shippers.  I got on the horn and indeed a shipment of 20 boards was on the way the next day to Perth, Australia. What great timing right!  Well, if they were all for sale..they were all pre sold! Ugh, how frustrating…as I was having  a restless night figuring out how much and how long it would take to air freight a board from Thailand. Someone decided not to purchase a board from the

Putting Humpty Dumpty back together

distributor here, glory halleluiah!  I promptly picked up my new board the next day and can’t be happier with it’s performance. Fast all a rounder. I got lucky.  The past two weeks I’ve been sporadically testing my fastest kit, but ensuring it doesn’t see too much sunlight till trials day. It’s fast and speed won’t be my limitations here, nor will it be the reason why I would  lose these trials. No, I plan on winning these trials because I can race better.  It’s almost go time. It’s been the most ridiculous and awesome journey.  I’ll take some good luck any day. But also know I can take on the bad luck with the best of them. A regatta or any of them are the same. No matter how important the outcome, our ability to overcome the obstacles is a necessity. I’m ready and this is how I’ve done it.  Oh, did I mention that the Olympic Games is supplied equipment? That means all the competitors get a random allocation of new gear. I hope I get lucky there too.

The Miami Experience

Going the right direction but slow - Miami 2011

So here is my true story about “Old Glory.” You see, “old glory” wasn’t just a name of a famous battleship, it was my coined name for the sail that got me a top ten in the 2009 World Cup in Weymouth England.  Well, it wasn’t always so glorious. The week before the 2009 worlds, I was as slow as the double decker bus. The phenomenal speed difference was (you guessed it)  attributed to a mast and a fin.  Now mid year 2009 I started taking a break.  I bought no new equipment for the next 18 months.   I knew  ”old glory” and the right combination would come  through for all the key events.  Four months later, with zero time on the water, I strolled up to the North Americans and won decisively, I was still flying.

A week later during the Miami World Cup, I was still going strong, although, I was starting to slow down in the breeze…and I wasn’t sure why. I tossed it off as random occurrence. Then I went to the next 6 events with the same exact set up and kept on getting slower and slower.  I wasn’t training as much either, so I attributed it to not training as hard as I should have been for the event. So I spent 3 months building my time on the water for the  2011 World Cup in Miami in January.  Most of the training was on my own. But,  it came down to technique and racing at the end of the day.  Little did I know it was the beginning of my nightmare. Obviously, “old glory” was getting old with 9 regattas already on it.  So,I got a new sail. And wow did it feel different!  By this time my fastest fin had broken in half,  so, I used another fin that I thought was good as well.

This Miami World Cup event is typically a light air venue, and I usually do very well in my home environment.  It was light everyday in Miami, except the first four days of racing. Actually everyday of that regatta was planning, and I had zero time tuning up in the breeze.  Bam, I was out the back pumping harder than all my competitors and still slower.   Wow, this was an shocking surprise.  I now look back at that event and laugh. I know exactly what went wrong and I’ll tell you in a minute.  At the time, I blamed it on a gasket breaking, forcing me to retire from a race.  I also blamed it on the board, or mast.

This large “slap in my face” started to gel. I knew that I was pretty close in size to all the fastest sailors and I couldn’t imagine my technique being that far off.  I finally understood that I needed new equipment.  But, I needed to find a way to buy more equipment quickly, and that equipment costs a lot of money, tens of thousands of dollars. I hadn’t started up the fundraising machine in over 2 years and was seriously getting tired of asking people to help me win.  I can’t just family bankroll my Olympic campaign like many of my American competitors.

The Olympic Windsurfing Game: 2012 Edition – Fish and Chips Please!

Four years ago I was bobbing around in the pacific hoping there would be just a breath of wind to fill my windsurfing sail before I passed out from the sweltering heat.  The current was intense. China smelled funny or at least their supermarkets did.  All the fast Olympic competitors were lean, light and mean.  Added on top of the typically light wind, we had unlimited pumping, or fanning of the sail which was permitted in the Olympic windsurfing discipline.  This made for an extremely tiring and aerobic fight against my competitors.   Fast forward 4 years later and the new Olympic Venue is Weymouth, England. You think of England and you likely know it’s damp, you also know it’s quite blustery and things can change very quickly.   That’s not all that has changed.

This coming 2012 Olympics changed my entire games preparation just as fast as the weather changed to “jumper” weather.  I’ve had a few technical difficulties to say the least.  Now I’ll share with you the meat of this Olympic game.  It might get technical.  I’ll try to keep it simple because this game isn’t that complicated.

I’m a Florida boy.  I grew up with white sand and board shorts except when the occasional cold front came through and I needed a shorty wetsuit. This worked quite well for the past 10 years. I was always too heavy for the Olympic equipment so dieting and keeping my weight in check was essential.. The light winds and warm temperatures kept me nice and thin.  Then welcome to England; fish and chips please! Make that 2 portions of them.  I’m ten pounds heavier than I was in China. I’ve trained the last 6 months in windy, wet and cold locations, so my tan is struggling except here in Australia where it’s bright sunny warm and windy!

My size and strength isn’t the only thing to increase. I now own 8 fins, 6 masts, 5 boards, and 3 booms, much of that acquired over the past 6 months.  Breeze sailing or anything over 12 knots means board speed of 15-30 mph, which makes for some exhilarating racing.  But even in a one design controlled class such as mine, at these speeds the difference between a bad fin and a good fin or an old sail and a new one means the difference between racing at the front side of the fleet or spitting out the back.  So all those pieces of quiver I’ve purchased have their own personality. And they’ve all been individually nicknamed.  Now how many possible permutations does all my gear have? 720, and I’m not talking about doing a penalty turn.  Each piece has to work in synergy with the rest of  my gear. Sure there are certain visual cues that help you distinguish the differences but in the end the good old scientific method has to be diligently applied.

Life on the Road

Ben Barger Jamming

Obviously everybody wants to win, wants all their dreams to come true with a pot of gold at the end.  Mine in many ways have already been completed, but in other ways unfulfilled.  I left the last Olympics with a mandate to completely finish off my competitive Olympic pursuit by going for it one last time.  Initially it was vengeful pursuit, then it turned sad and then finally a clear focusing on winning.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into!  They say this is a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”  The reality is life is made up of a bunch of them. Whether you win or lose at these opportunities is obviously determined by hard work and luck or bad luck.

For the past 6 months I’ve finally been back on track to win, following what was a series of very bad luck.  In the next update I’ll explain exactly what bad luck occurred and what I’ve done to fix this in time to win the US Trials in less than 2 weeks.  Now in perspective, I had 7 years of very good luck before, that which I will always be satisfied with at completing.  But the trick is to take bad luck and turn it into an opportunity before it completely kills you.  Turning that luck around has been the most humbling and satisfying experience I’ve ever had.  It far outweighs the winning I’ve accomplished when all is easy.   But to complete this dream with such sacrifice and preparation, to give up any semblance of a normal life, and to just live the dream with honor and satisfaction is really once in a lifetime.  I want to share with you these stories. So these coming updates won’t just be about results but what it takes to be a US Olympian competing against the worlds best.

I’ve trained so hard the last 6 months I don’t care if I win or lose. I’ve done my absolute best preparation and this is the exact same formula I used for the last trials I won with confidence.”

Flying in Bermuda

In summary the 24 hours I was home in the last eight months is a good overall description of the necessary sacrifices to prepare to win the US trials and ultimately go to my second Olympics.  The French, British, Italians, Hong Kongers, Bermudians, and Australians, I owe a great deal of gratitude for allowing me to jump into their Olympic programs so that we both could improve.  Why?  Because there is only one athlete spot for my sport in the Olympics, so it’s not exactly conducive to be training with other Americans, and with little to no funding or specific requirements it’s a very singlehanded journey.  As I mentioned in my past Olympic updates it’s burning the candle at both ends. Completely unsustainable to have to raise your own funding and compete in Europe on other teams programs. That’s why I laid low, in other words worked, for 18 months while I filled up my “crazy tank”, and crazy is a vast understatement.   That means mondo sacrifice, long trips away from home, missing family and hope that it all turns out right and you don’t land belly up somewhere wet and cold.

Did I mention I’m a windsurfer?  Yes it’s a sport in the Olympics and it’s part of sailing.  Now comes the fun part. Most sailors don’t consider windsurfing to be sailing.  Yet windsurfing is actually part of the sailing discipline in the Olympics.  Do I feel welcomed by yacht clubs, sailing schools and most other sailors? The short answer is no.  There is a large disconnect here that creates great diversity in the Olympic sailing program but requires many different skill sets for windsurfing. Being different is not always better, in this case much more difficult for support.  Now you probably think of sailing and think about boats, and yes expensive boats. Expensive is a huge understatement.  Windsurfing is still hugely expensive to run a successful Olympic program but much less than the other 8 classes competing in sailing boats. I’ve raised all of the money the last 7 months from local American support, international investors and our Team2Seconds nutrition business start up.


I’ve spent $70,000 in the last 7 months to make my comeback, and there is no guarantee I will even win the US Olympic Trials, but I should have my best opportunity.   Much of it was spent on new equipment, travel and accommodation, which included living in a tent.  It wasn’t always this expensive, but with international teams hiring full time coaches and support systems it keeps on pushing the improvements at a breathtaking pace.  Meanwhile US Sailing, my governing body, continues to allocate resources on sailing specific pathways while saving till I die to spend anything on the windsurfing discipline.  This is exactly why I got involved so much politically, because I was tired of being the outcast, the one that never had the same resources other athletes had because my family wasn’t rich.  Nope I’m a motivated hard worker, and my results and political involvement are a direct outcome of standing up and saying; I’ve had enough. It’s my generations’ time to step up into leadership positions.

Emotions get the better of me. I’ve wanted to quit many times this past year.  I get lonely, homesick and tired of always living on favors and help. I could quit, that sure would be easy and easy to have that normal job and stable income and lifestyle.  But not me, and not the friends,

Making it Hurt

family and supporters I have around me that wouldn’t let me stop.  I thank you from the bottom of my heart for keeping me charged when I was too weak to do it on my own.  I’d much rather suffer and finish what I started, and yes, I usually get enjoyment out of getting the shit kicked out of me. Good to great is often the difference between living an over protective environment to one that your constantly being challenged. Have I improved?  Tons. I can’t wait to show you how much I have in the next update. I’m disclosing it all, no secrets or fear of my competitors reading these updates.  I know I will perform at a personal best at the World Championships in just a few weeks time. I will be a ferocious competitor. After that the Olympics is just 8 months away and I want to make every American proud, my family proud and stories to tell my children one day. I’ll leave it all out on the racecourse and wouldn’t want it any other way. Full stop. I’ve got something to prove here.

I’m in Australia!

The Pressure is ON

I finally made it to Perth, Western Australia after what seems like a week long odyssey along three continents to get here!  Back to summer time and warm temperatures, quite the departure from my training in England for most of this year.  The Olympic Games happens once every four years and I’m here for my final chance to win the US Olympic Team Trials for the London Olympics next summer.  I’ve been training here the last week with most of the “serious” athletes getting ready for their pinnacle.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed coming back on the Olympic tour and with a much different perspective than the Olympics before this one.  I’m keen on making a personal best here; I’ve done a 180 with my training from primarily light wind training to high wind preparation.  I’m 10 pounds heavier than I was 4 years ago and really enjoying it!  Perth is a predominantly windy venue, but as anywhere I suspect race time to give a fair mix of it all.  More updates soon on why these games are different for me. Thanks for all your cheers!

New Bests!!

Dear Friends,

First overall.
Won 6 out of 8 races.
I’m back.

Yesterday I won the Italian Championships in Lake Garda and placed first in 6 out of 8 races. At the European Championships in Bulgaria two weeks ago I matched my personal best from 2008, and it was a training and testing regatta. In two and a half months I will be racing at my final chance to win the US Olympic Trials. I plan on winning there after losing big at the first Olympic Trials event this past June. Read on for some very exciting news.

“It’s a dead man running” is one of the many thoughts I have as I train tirelessly each and every day.  No fear of losing, no feelings of getting tired, just the vivid memory of losing 4 months ago and how I won’t be letting that happen again.  It’s now been 5 months since I embarked on the comeback of my lifetime for the 2012 Olympic Games.  It’s also been 5 months since I’ve been home, and I might return for a week before the end of the year. I knew if I was going to do this dream, I was going to go all out. There are no second chances in sports, there is nobody to pick you up if you fall. You are only as good as your last result.  I’ve got a payback that’s been growing in me since the last day of racing in the 2008 Olympics.  A dream that I was nearly forced to quit because of a personal financial crisis at the beginning of this year. The last update I sent you I was at a personal worst, I had a terrible first Olympic Trials regatta and was on the verge of retirement from the sport.  But I don’t give up that easily. With the win in Italy the hard work I’ve done both on and off the water is starting to finally pay off.

What energizes me is the thought that my opponents thought my day had come.
That I was done.
Game over.

I knew and have known there is no way I’d let a little ass kicking get the better of me.  I was terribly underprepared coming in to the first round of the Olympic Trials and I knew it.  But my strength alone isn’t enough, that’s where family, friends and business colleagues stepped in and up for me to finish this strong. The last time I lost an Olympic Trials I was undefeated in the US for 7 years. Now back in perspective and on my best game, I’m thankful for losing in June, and even more thankful for now having the chance for me to show the world and my opponents what I’m truly capable of performing at in December. I’m training at a level right now that I could never afford to do before.

They say getting there is half of success, well for this year, getting there has been the major struggle. Unlike my competitors, who are either family funded or government funded, I have to work. It’s unsustainable at this rate, I’m burning my candle at both ends. It’s exactly what burned myself out in 2009, but taking the rest through 2010 was the best thing I could have done.  Now full of energy, I don’t have to let up an inch before the US trials concludes or the Olympics finishes next year.  But my life is like a gypsy’s, training with foreign teams full time, no permanent home. It’s what I have to do to win. And somehow I really get a kick out of it.

It’s time to make a sustainable program not just for me but for other athletes as well.

We are in the late stages of creating a nutrition company that will have a dual mission – to make your lives better through nutrition, and to support struggling athletes to their dreams.  People think that the US Olympic team is well and fully funded, but the reality is that this past April I was staying in a tent when I had no money to find proper accommodation while competing there.  The tent was a 50 Euro one-man pop-up tent that advertised that it could be pitched in 2 seconds.

In that tent I continued work on prototyping a unique nutrition product, mixing ingredients together to find a formula that worked.  This formula is now moving toward full production and the venture will ultimately allow  me and others to continue to pursue Olympic dreams. As the company is getting closer to the product launch, and as I approach my ultimate competitive test this December I count my lucky stars. The hard work is paying off.  Team 2 Seconds is born. We will take a portion of profits from this business to sustain the team racer’s Olympic dreams.  It’s time to apply the years of work experience while campaigning for the Olympics into a successful business we own and that we all can be a part of winning.   I know I can be the best, so will the products we make and put our name behind. I hope you’re as excited as me to finally be back in top form.

Please follow along on the team’s website and blog. I will be updating this regularly with the team’s progress. Let’s go for Gold!


Dear Friends,
I wish I could be sharing with you great news. The news and results I am more than capable of capturing. But not for one, but many reasons I didn’t perform well this past week at the US Olympic Trials and I lost. Does that mean it’s over? No. Read on and let me tell you about the most intense journey of my life and what I have to do in December to win the US Trials. It’s time to spill the beans. Please understand it’s very hard for me to tell you this story, it’s very personal. In America we often are asked, “how are you?” and everybody responds, “fine”  I’m responding, “terrible.” But not for long.
This past week was the first regatta of the US Olympic Trials. It was one of those regattas that everything went wrong. I had two false starts that cost me significantly plus terrible results the first few days.  It meant the worst regatta in my memory, with people beating me that have never beat me before in a major competition, including Bob my US competitor.  On day 3 I was ready to pack up my bag, and head home.  I was relieved I could finally move on with my life. In the past I had won the trials, peaked well and left it to the best of my ability. But not this time.  I planned on retiring if I lost this segment of the trials, and didn’t have a personal best.  But my long time friend and business partner Alex Jones heard me talk like I’ve never talked before. I said, “It’s done, I’ve already had my day, let me just quit. I won’t be able to make it to Perth anyways.” And at the time it felt good to say that.  I even asked Bob on the third day and who’s leading the US trials to, “take me out of my misery.”  Bob then apologized.   But Alex Jones kept on telling me, “Ben, your going to Perth and your going to win there.”  … and Bob never finished me off here.
I’m a 2008 US Olympian, 7 times National Champion and the best world ranked american the past 9 years. I bring up the following because it’s time for a change and I need your help.  I reached a top 20 World Ranking in 2009 and was among the best sailors in the world. I’m a hard worker and I know I am talented, I test out in the top 10% in most things I attempt or am tested on.  Unlike my competitors, I’ve always worked while competing.  But what I couldn’t do was run a successful Olympic Campaign on $10,000  from US Sailing a year.  That’s all I would receive even after spending over $ 750,000 of money I worked and fundraised over the last 7 years to get to those results level. My Mom and Dad love me very much, but I didn’t hit that part of the genetic lottery.  So in 2010 I was toast, I got sick repeatedly and there was nobody to hold me up. I flatlined in results for the first time in my life. To make matters worse US Sailing cut my funding.  I got angry, depressed, demoralized oh and don’t forget divorced. Well the divorce happened in 2008, but because of the strain of competing. I was free falling, you know when your worst case scenario has been reached. Terminal Velocity.  And what makes me more angry is it’s not like I was struggling to make minimum wage, no I was struggling to make 50K a year while competing internationally part of the year. To fund this properly I needed  75-90K a year and still that’s a third of what the top teams received. My budget had no coach, had no training partners.  I was training in a vacuum.
What all this meant was early retirement last year, but by the middle of 2010 things were looking up again, I had some new sponsorship in alignment and work was going well. I was able to do the workouts again without getting sick, training alone but still able to sail.  But once again, work didn’t pan out well, donations were cut and I was planning on announcing retirement in December 2010. The recession had taken it’s toll on my friends and supporters.  But I couldn’t just quit, I can’t retire like that. So I sold my stuff and went head down into training.  Unfortunately I don’t have much stuff left!  By April I was down again and well I prayed for a miracle. I kept training acting as if, but my runway was getting shorter and shorter.  Thankfully things started working out again. Donators started showing up and support was resuming, I lifted off the runway but clipped a few trees on the way. I also found some part time work with Alex Jones in launching a business.  All this meant was I could finally sleep well at night again.
This April I got on the next flight to Europe for the French World Cup event in Hyeres, the donations hadn’t hit my account yet so I showed up a day before, got a tent and pitched it. I had a reasonable event considering it all. I was the top American by some 18 positions there and I knew I had time to still win at the first trials in Weymouth.  I locked in with the french team training out of Marseille, I received free accommodation there with support of my French friend. Everything was up and up. I was winning some practice races and consistently ahead to many of the top 10 guys training there. Unfortunately it was predominantly light air training. The trials event last week only had 1 day of light air and the rest in conditions I was far from prepared to sail in. Bob Willis took advantage of it and beat me by 14 positions. I typically beat him by 18-20 positions at big events and that is with little training.  I knew I had more in me, way more in me, I had finally a team moving again, I could continue finally. But it was too late to do it here.  I wasn’t going to surrender, it’s not the way I lose.  To add to more difficulty, I had to use my 10 regatta old sail “Old Glory” because the sail I had bought earlier this year was super slow in the windy stuff.  While in Europe the stores were out of stock of the new sails.  There are really no excuses to not performing, the only answer is by performing the next time.
It was day 4 of the US Olympic trials here in weymouth UK, I was at absolutely rock bottom. Losing by nearly 30 positions. I couldn’t imagine a larger nightmare.   But I asked myself a very simple question.  Why was I here and is this going to be my final passage. I could only think of this silly picture of Batman, that says ” I’m Batman.  And I got incredibly pissed off, silently, internally. I was ready to explode and feeling the surge of intensity. I scored a 7, 5, 3.  I’ll be ready for for the second trials event in Perth.
The last  few days of the Olympic trials, I kept getting back my form, I made a 15 position improvement in 2 days to a position that gives me the ability to still take and win the trials at the world championships in Perth the end of this year in Australia.  The US Olympic Trials are half way over and I’m losing by some points. If I perform on average at Perth against Bob, then I should win the Olympic Trials, but I won’t do average. It’s time to have a personal best.  And now I’m training with the worlds best now in my weakest conditions.
At this trials Bob sailed well, his improvements are admirable he sailed at par with where he was last year. I congratulate him on a job well done.   But we were both in Silver fleet.  I kept asking myself, is this really the best America can do? I usually am in gold fleet without training.  Am I going to quit now at an all time low? I know where I can sail, some 30 positions better, places where I have finished before.  I never have failed at a peak regatta in recent memory that I truly cared about.

You might ask why do I even bother?  Because I’m American, I’m talented and I know what I’m capable of performing. I might have been knocked down, but I will be back at the top of my game.  Where do my competitors get their money from? If their american, their family. If their European the government. Where do I?  You and me. I need your help to change the broken system.

I miss home, I miss my family friends and loved ones. I wish I could spend time being a normal person.  I won’t relent though.  I changed my flight and am staying 2 more months here in cold and windy Weymouth, UK. I will not rest until december 18th, the last day the Olympic Trials are finished.  I will hunt down winning form and combination down till I know with vivid  certainty how much I will be the absolute best in Perth. It’s not about beating Bob.   It’s about beating myself there,  something I promise to be proud of in completion and not a quitter.  I know how to sail brilliant tactics, and now I have time and some funds to put it all together, not enough but getting closer. I have 6 months. And I will need your help, firstly to help me win the second trials and do an all time American best in London next year, but secondly to also help me change the system. I can’t bear to see any other youths or American athletes get torn up in the same system that exists today. More to come. Thanks for your prayers and love. I surely have needed it, but we will prevail.
I’ll be in Kiel Germany this week for a “revenge of the Weymouth Trials” world cup event. I’ll be staying in a tent.
Ben Barger