Eighteen-year-old Ben Kanute thought long and hard about where to go to college.
His primary objective? To pick the place that would give him his best shot at becoming an Olympic triathlete.
School: Marmion Academy
Who inspires you? My dad, because of his hard work ethic, honesty, loyalty and integrity. Plus, he gives great pep talks.
What book are you reading? "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," by Rebecca Skloot, and I also want to begin "I'm Here to Win," by Chris McCormack.
What's on your iPod? Mumford and Sons, Taylor Swift, Eminem and alternative music.
The three words that best describe you? Hardworking, Honest, Competitive.
Ben, who lives in Geneva, chose the University of Arizona, where he plans to study physiology in the fall. Tucson is frequented by world-class triathletes, its warm, dry winters perfectly suited for year-round training, Ben said.
"It's going to be a good environment. I will be around a lot of people I can learn from," he said.
Ben's dreams are not as lofty as they might seem.
In May, Ben graduated among the top of his class from Aurora's Marmion Academy while competing as one of the nation's best junior triathletes.
He was on Team USA at the International Triathlon Union (ITU) Junior World Championships in 2009 and 2010 and was the United States' junior elite triathlon champion in 2008 and 2010.
And he made Marmion's superior honor roll every single semester.
The key, Ben says, is to keep your eyes on the prize.
"When you have an overwhelming week, you just have to get through that week," Ben said. "I've always liked to give myself a challenge, whether academically or on the field."
His immediate goal is to qualify again for the world championships, and then do really well in September in Beijing, China.
However, Ben's ultimate ambition is to make it to the 2016 Olympics, where triathlons consist of a 1,500-meter swim, 40-kilometer bike ride and 10-kilometer run, or double the length of the sprint triathlons to which he is accustomed.
His first foray into an Olympic-distance triathlon in early June in Hammond, Ind., was a resounding success.
Ben took first place in Leon's Triathlon as the youngest among the top 20 athletes, his time of 2:02:20.6 a full minute ahead of his closest competitor -- his coach, Adam Zucco. "He blasted me," said Zucco, of Elburn.
Depending on the difficulty of the course, top Olympic-distance triathletes finish in about two hours, said John Martin, USA Triathlon communications manager.
Ben also won the men's sprint distance event with a time of 58:34 at the 2011 Monroe PATCO Triathlon Junior Pan American Cup on June 25.
Ben has achieved great results on the national stage, and is among the most promising junior triathletes in the country, said Andy Schmitz, high performance senior manager for USAT. Ben placed 38th and 40th at the world championships.
"Ben is an exceptionally strong swimmer and biker," Schmitz said. "If he would be able to turn his run around, he could definitely be a force."
Ben said he was disappointed at his international results, and he's been working to beef up his running while preparing to qualify for the world championship at a race on Sunday, July 10, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He will have a final chance at nationals Aug. 6-7 in San Diego, Calif.
Zucco, a former coach for the triathlon team at Multisport Madness in St. Charles, said Ben follows his training regimen to the letter. "He has the best work ethic of anyone I've seen," said Zucco, who was also named 2009 USAT developmental coach of the year.
Zucco will continue coaching Ben after he goes to college by monitoring his training online and visiting three or four times a year, he said. Olympic-distance triathletes typically peak in their late 20s or early 30s, so Ben has plenty of time, he said. And the 2016 games are still a ways off.
Ben said the variety of sports in triathlons keeps him interested -- and never bored.
"People talk about runner's high, but you can get that same type of feeling out of any workout," he said. "When you run, bike or swim, that is what you are searching for, that feeling."
At Marmion, Ben juggled a rigorous academic schedule with cross country in fall and swimming in winter, two teams he captained his senior year. His senior year he also ran the Crayons for Kids charity program, was a company commander for the U.S. Army's Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, and the rector, or head student leader, selected to plan the Kairos school retreat.
"I guess I am really good at time management," he said. "I know how to budget my time and plan ahead during the week." Marmion cross country coach Dan Billish said Ben was an effective, outspoken leader. "That's a rare thing. A lot of our leaders are talented, but they let their talent do all the work -- they are not vocal," he said.
Ben also led by example by training solo during the worst weather conditions in the off-season, Billish said.
Ben competed in his first triathlon around age 8, following in the footsteps of his father, Mike Kanute, who has competed in about eight marathons and several Ironman races, or "ultra distance" triathlons that end with a marathon. Ben's mother, Eileen Kanute, has run a couple of marathons, and his younger brothers Josh, 16, and Nick, 14, are excelling in swimming and cross country, respectively.
"For our vacations we pick a lot of spots where we can do things like ride mountain bikes or go kayaking," Ben said.
Ben said his father comes to all his races, while his mother makes it as often as possible. Over the years, his parents have supported him both emotionally and financially, most recently when they bought him a $6,000 Wilier road bike for triathlons, he said.
"They have always been there for me," he said.
Mike Kanute said he's always tried to make sure Ben didn't feel too much pressure from all the activities in which he's been involved.
"He's always been an extremely hard worker at anything he does -- school, sports, volunteer and charitable things," he said. "He gets really engrossed in everything he does."
Coach Zucco said the Kanutes deserve a lot of credit.
"Ben's parents are doing something right, to have that many kids that well-grounded and doing so well," Zucco said. "There is a huge support structure at his house that plays a lot into anyone's development."
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