My International Canoe Federation name, the name they put on start lists, is Benn Fraker. My parents named me Thomas which is a huge pain since I go by Benn, even more of a pain because I added an extra ‘n’ in the fourth grade. I got tired of people assuming my name was Benjamin and not Bennett, although the extra ‘n’ has had no impact on people making that assumption and now I just look pretentious.
I spent every moment I could in a canoe from about age 12 until right after the Olympics in 2008 (age 19). I got a little burned after that many straight years and just couldn’t bring myself to train seriously for about two years. I continued to race, but the passion was gone. I had to take some time to round out my life a little.
In my sabbatical, I tried to go to school twice. I withdrew from two full semesters, completing one in between withdrawals. Eventually after looking around at my best options, the realization came that I was never going to find a better opportunity than to train full time for another Olympics. My experience leading into and through China was the most intense and rewarding of my life, but at times it was a struggle to survive. I’m aiming at London, training to compete not just to survive.
I’m training for two classes now, C-1 and C-2, with long-time friend Isaac Levinson. We’ve been paddling slalom together since middle school, and not long after that, his extreme race skills made him the guy I’m most comfortable following down rapids that really scare me off the slalom course. I can’t think of a better racing partner than someone I trust with my life.
So, now I’m back, and it’s time to do anything and everything it takes. I can feel nervous excitement growing as I write this, but it’s easy to feel that way in the beginning. There are an inestimable number of steps between me and my goals. Many of them will be on frozen mud. Time to start walking.
Home: Peachtree City, GA
Current Residence: Atlanta, Ga.
Discipline/Event: Slalom Canoe, C-1
College: Georgia State University
Coach: Cathy Hearn
• 2008 Olympian
• 6th at Beijing 2008 Olympic Games
• 4-time consecutive U.S. National Champion (2007-2010)
• 3rd in 2008 World Cup overall standings
• 13th in 2007 World Cup Rankings
• 2005 Junior Pre-Worlds Champion
• Fifth at the 2006 Junior World Championships
• First C-1 boat on the Senior National Team
• 2011 US National Slalom Team Member
• Reached the finals at 2011 Slalom World Cup No. 2, placing 7th
• Reached the semifinals at 2011 Slalom World Cup No. 3
• Placed 22nd among Men’s Canoes in final 2011 ICF World Cup
• 2011 National Champion in Men’s Canoe.
• Family: Parents – Tom and Marsha Fraker; brother – Davis; sister – Addie…Father was a recreational kayaker and got him interested in the sport.
• Hobbies: bike riding, reading, writing, all sports, hanging out with my family
• Music in iPod: Modest Mouse, Saul Williams, Elliott Smith
• Favorite TV show: “The Office”
Post Number One: Flight Mares to Aus
My Dad works for Delta, which means our family has flight privileges. That, coupled with the amount of traveling requisite for an American canoeist in a Euro-centric sport has seen me onto many aircraft; I feel like I’ve seen just about every unexpected/stressful thing that can befall a traveler. Just recently on my way to Australia for a two-month training regime to help prepare for the London Olympics, I got to see a new one.
This morning at 5:20 a.m., Bailey, my girlfriend, and I set out for the airport with our travel agent, my Dad, behind the wheel. We’re flying stand-by to Sydney by way of Los Angeles for what will be a two month warm weather training camp. Last year, my paddling partner, Isaac Levinson, and I got stuck in L.A. for five days attempting to pull off this same hail-Mary itinerary.
The best thing about flying on my Dad’s passes is that the extra seats on the plane are distributed to stand-by travelers by seniority within the company. This eliminates the need to do anything before the absolute last minute as he can book my “seat request” at home any time before the flight.
I woke to find him already at his computer checking availability. As is frequent at Tom’s Bargain Blow Out Stand-by Deals, he had some disconcerting news. “Getting to L.A. is going to be one of those stand-by days we’ve all come to love so much,” he said as he handed me a piece of paper covered in alternate routes from Atlanta to LAX. “But once you’re there the flight to Sydney looks good.” Another thing Tom’s BBOSD is always good for is a liberal coating of optimism to go with the bad news. I’ve learned to translate my old man’s words into a language I can understand: “You’re F#$%ED.”
A couple hours later, Bailey and I were sitting on the floor at Gate E1 waiting to hear if the 7:20 to L.A. would be a part of our future. The intercom buzzed to life. “All stand-bys are cleared. Everyone with a seat request please approach the podium and board immediately. I couldn’t believe our luck; against all odds we’d been cleared.
At this point, 40 people rushed the podium as if they were handing out free sandwiches. Bailey and I worked our way to the podium, she scanned her seat request and received a boarding pass. But mine failed to scan. I told her to go ahead and get on regardless of what happened to me. In the next few chaotic moments, however, my name vanished from the stand-by and cleared lists altogether. Before I knew what was happening, the doors to the plane closed and it taxied away with one seat left in the back, my seat. Due to either a technology glitch or someone accidentally deleting my name from the list after my pass failed to scan, all records of my ever trying to board the plane disappeared.
Silver lining: I got to break in my new running shoes as the next flight to L.A. was already boarding on the opposite side of the world’s busiest airport. Just as I was topping the escalator, I got a text from my travel agent, “19C.” Good old Tom was already back at home watching the whole time trying to figure out a way to get me there. He knew I had a seat before I did — what amazing service.
Earlier, I had told my dad jokingly that with Tom’s Bargain Blow Out Stand-by Deals, you really get what you pay for, and that all too frequently is not a seat on a plane. But I’ve realized over the years of being a full-time athlete in a fringe sport that travel help comes in many forms. The people I’ve shared these experiences with mean more to me than the medals I hope to win and money I probably won’t make…