Team Expedition Canada’s Captain: Ben Kwiatkowski

We are so excited to interview Ben Kwiatkowski, captain of the Expedition Canada Adventure Racing Team. They have been crushing it on the international scene and have a lot to share about the power of grit and teamwork.
Congratulations on finishing second at the Tierra Indomita Adventure Race (AR) in Chile after completing nearly 500 km and 3 1/2 days of racing!

What can you tell us about your team members?

Over the past 6 months, we have been building a roster of some of the top adventure racing athletes in Canada. For this race we had Ben Kwiatkowski, Kiah Davidson, Tom Hardy, and Jasper Edge all from British Columbia. Ben and Kiah are partners who have built a life around outdoor adventure. Ben as the captain and navigator is gaining experience through a handful of races over the last 5 years. The race in Chile was only Kiah’s second race but she is proving that she is a natural in the sport. Tom and Jasper are wildland firefighters who have been racing with Ben since their first race in the 2019 Eco-Challenge Fiji and are now becoming recognized as competent and competitive adventure racers.

How did you get involved in adventure racing?

All of us lead very active lifestyles and recreate in these sports regularly. With some of us coming from backgrounds of endurance racing, this seemed like a natural fit. Short local races were a taste, and jumping into an expedition length adventure race feet first was the only way to truly test ourselves. Everyone loved their first race, and slowly became more passionate after doing more races.

Was Chile your first AR together?

Ben, Tom, and Jasper have now done 4 races together. Tierra Indomitable was Kiah’s second ever race, and the first time that all 4 of us have raced together. Although it was our first race as a 4 pack, everything felt very familar as we all recreate together regularly.

What was it like to race for 3 1/2 days?

Racing for that long is gruelling! There are ebbs and flows but we try to always be engaged and moving with purpose. Even when we are at a transition area getting ready for the next sport, we are never truly resting and are always trying to think 2 steps ahead. It’s easy to understand how physically difficult that many days of effort can be, but the mental engagements and sleep deprivation is a true testament to how much grit is needed for this sport.

What was the most challenging moment in the race?

In the later half of the race after passing over a glacier at the top of a volcano, a major storm arrived. We made the difficult decision to shelter in place knowing that there were 2 teams ahead of us. It was tough to pause our forward progress in the interest of safety while snow and extreme winds hit the next part of the course. After resting during the worst part of the storm, we put our heads down and braved the strong rains. Fortunately the fresh snow on the upper parts of that section just made us feel like we were at home. We all joked that walking in the snow was the most comfortable our body temperatures had been all race!

What sort of mindset do you cultivate to succeed in a gruelling race like this?

When it comes to the physical challenges, grit. Especially during the very long stages which can be arduous and exhausting. With this attitude it’s possible to persevere through the exertion while maintaining a passion for the short-term goal of getting through that stage, and the long-term goal of completing the full course (all while chasing the podium). When it comes to the mental challenges, resiliency. The mental component can be even more of a test during an expedition race especially when balancing the interactions of 4 unique individuals. Racers are met with constant decision making often with limited information while sleep deprived and drained. Add in a variety of emotions and we can be in very compromised states trying to make critical decisions. However, we take everything in stride, approach all obstacles as a team, and cultivate resilience while always moving forward efficiently and with purpose.

What were some of your favourite memories of the Tierra Indomita Adventure Race?

During adventure racing the unique conversations and bonding that happens are always very special. Something unique to Chile however were the diverse landscapes. Multiple times we found ourselves in awe of the beauty surrounding us including glaciers on top of volcanos, moonscapes of lava, glossy lakes, bamboo forests, snow fields, and our favourite being the old growth monkey puzzle tree forests.

Some people said that Chile reminded them of Canada’s landscape, would you agree?

Absolutely! From the people to the landscape, we felt very at home. We interacted with the most amazing friendly people there who were happy to welcome us to their country. The mountains and forests also felt very familiar to British Columbia where we constantly play in similar terrain. I highly suggest making a trip to the southern mountainous areas of Chile.

Tell us about your recent race in Croatia!

On the heels of the Chile race, we shifted gears to a new combination of racers this time including Ben, Dave Ellis, James Galipeau, and Jen Segger. Dave, Jen, and James have all been racing for around 20 years and Ben was hoping to learn from their valuable experience. Once again we were taken on a journey through some stunning landscapes including paddling on the Adriatic Sea, trekking through ancient ruins, and biking in lush forests. Although the distance and time were similar to Chile, this race had double the transitions between sports which made it FAST!

What are your main takeaways from the race?

During the longest bike leg, a few mistakes led to the swiss cheese holes lining up and losing one of our maps with no spare. This left us stranded on course for over 7 hours waiting for the next team to catch up in order to take a photo of their map and navigate off of a tiny camera screen. Adversity can happen in many shapes during a race, some more impactful than others. Either way, we deal with these as a team. Although disappointed, we did not get down on ourselves, and made the most of an extended break with a beautiful view and new dog friend who had followed us for the previous 20 km. This mishap took us out of contention for the ranking we were striving for, but we still continued to push hard and race towards the finish.

Do you have any advice for people who are starting out in adventure racing or wanting to get into it?

Keep doing these sports that we love! Put in the kilometres, and get outside as often as you can. Don’t just stick to the trail, get off the trail and do some exploring. Make yourself uncomfortable, and get familiar with challenge, struggle, and adversity. Try to attend shorter races, but don’t be afraid to make that leap to a longer race. It will always feel like a big hurdle, but believe in yourself that you can give it your best. Most races cater well to being able to chew off whatever portion of the race you can. But don’t think that you have reached your limit when you get there, push past it and see what you are capable of!

What are you and the team looking forward to next?

We have a busy race calendar this year, and we are looking forward to what is ahead. Every race will be a different combination of our athletes so we have a lot of growth to do as a group. We feel very fortunate to be able to travel to so many unique places and can’t wait to continue exploring the world while constantly pushing our limits.

Any final words for our readers?

Although expedition adventure racing may seem daunting, it can be achievable. Once you have done some shorter races, don’t be afraid to make that leap to something that will challenge you in ways you didn’t know possible. We all made that jump at some and fell in love with it.

How can people get in touch with you?

Follow along this wild adventure of ours through our social media on Facebook (Team Expedition Canada AR) and instagram (@teamexpeditioncanadaar) as we post regularly before and after races. Reach out through either of those, we are always happy to chat about adventure racing.
Source: Eli, a Canadian distributor