Few Dartmouth students credit a newspaper advertisement with changing their lives. But at age 12, Benjie Lewis ’05 cut out a phone number for “kayakers wanted”from the back pages of the Miami Herald. Six years later, he is an internationally acclaimed athlete.
Lewis competes in flatwater sprint kayaking, an event described by the U.S. Canoe and Kayak Federation as “a contest of speed, strength and endurance in which athletes compete head to head on calm bodies of water,” at distances of 500 and 1,000 meters.
At the senior world championship races this summer in Poland, he raced in the singles and doubles events and made semifinals. Two years ago, at the junior world championships in Croatia, Lewis also made semifinals by racing in the four-man event.
A native of North Miami Beach, Fla., Lewis attended the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid, New York. He lived and trained at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid for 18 months prior to graduation.
“I’ve lived with around 70 percent of the U.S. Olympic team,” Lewis said. “The entire kayak team has such strong camaraderie … we’re like brothers and sisters.”
Although the sport is his passion, Lewis does not see himself kayaking full-time in his adult years. “You can’t make substantial income off of kayaking … you’d be living in the back of your car,” Lewis said. “I do, however, want to kayak competitively until I reach my forties.”
Currently on the U.S. National Kayak Team, Lewis is gearing up for Olympic trials in 2003, in hopes of competing in the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece. “I’d like to see myself on a Wheaties box someday,” he said. His biggest upcoming event is the world championships in Seville, Spain, scheduled for next August.
In the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Knut Holmann of Norway won the gold in both the 500- and 1,000-meter races. The gold medal in the 100-meter quads went to Hungary. Still, the U.S. team’s sixth-place finish in this race was viewed as an unexpected success.
Although his intensive training regimen of rowing for the crew team and kayaking three times a week is a major time commitment, Lewis is serious about his academic pursuits. An intended economics major, he also plans on fulfilling all prerequisites for medical school. “I came here for the unparalleled education,” he said, “and also for the great kayaking along the Connecticut River.”
Lewis attributes his successes both on and off the water to his parents, his coach Paul Podgorski and “the luck that led me to find that ad and [Olympic competitor] Angel Perez, who first got me started.”
“If it weren’t for kayaking,” Lewis said, “I wouldn’t be where and what I am today.”