Humans of TRACTION: Karl Bensemann
By Oscar Sullivan
It will highlight how they came to be involved in our organisation.
Their stories are unique and deserve to be shared.
Growing up in New Zealand
I was born in Hamilton New Zealand, we moved around a lot when I was a kid. My parents worked on dairy farms. My main home was Nelson, top of the South Island. We lived about an hour away on a farm. There was a lot of Motocross out there which I thought was really cool, but we could never really afford it so would just ride my BMX instead and jump things, trying to imitate all that stuff. We had 50 acres and would just tear around, build jumps not really knowing it was a thing – just copying motorbikes. When mum would get a pile of bark delivered to put on the gardens, me my brother and my sister would jump over it on the bikes.
When I went to high school, I met Kelly (McGarry) at a motocross race and he had a “Haro Shredder” and my mind was blown, it was such a cool bike. Then at school I met other guys that could ride (Cam, Ben, Matt, Steve Coleman) – all guys that would become good friends of mine. After meeting them, it turned into every weekend it was just all about riding jumps, I was terrible. I looped out onto my arse so many times, it was nuts. I had a really good time growing up with them riding around everywhere.
The Freedom of Riding
Then as I got older and started to realise a few things, I found that home was just a bit rubbish at that time, so I spent most of my time on my bike away from it all. As soon as I realised my bike was there, I just clung onto it and that was that, that was my getaway.
I just kept riding; I didn’t want to be at school. There were aspects of it that I liked but I guess I was just an awkward country kid; I wasn’t very good socially and I was pretty weird. In the classroom I would get so bored. I hated that it was all down to a teacher’s interpretation of if you had done good, “It sucks, get me out of here!”.
Bike riding was cool, it was more about the people I was doing it with, that’s what hooked me into doing it all the time. Learning about contests and I would watch them thinking, “I could do that”. I went overseas to big dirt jump contests and I was like, “Far out; this is nuts. I am not even that into this like these guys. They want it more; they are happy to hurt themselves bad just to be good”.
After all of that I just started riding for me and what I wanted to do. I didn’t learn the tricks that everyone else was doing, I rode for myself and I got better. I still did contests and travelled around but it was fun, and I enjoyed it.
As I got older, I would work hard, save up and go overseas, do contests in Europe and just enjoyed the low-key stuff more. Farm Jam was good timing, I got into that as it was starting. Its huge now but I came through with it, so I grew with the contest. I love it.
Taking up a Trade
I got into welding as a way of getting out of school, I took up a trade. It seemed like a good thing, I got a job in a workshop after school and I thought of welding because that’s how bikes are made. Plus having a trade in my area was a big deal, so I was lucky to get started in my apprenticeship and luckily again I managed to get through it.
When I stopped riding bikes, I was really pursuing my welding career. I was working fly in fly out, 28 days straight and then a week off. I’d stopped riding, and I was really struggling with that. I found that it was a big part of my life and I was trying to fill that instead with trying to be a good welder. I was away a lot and that meant I was detached from normal life. I got unfit and issues with my knee were causing me a lot of pain. The furthest away from where I am now is probably when I was fully submerged into the welding industry, looking for the next job and the next project… Just chasing money, thinking that was what’s important.
I can still remember you know, starting as an apprentice and all you want to do is weld to get your opportunity to do your work. You have to work your way up to getting that. Once you start there’s always a better job, more money and a more prestigious sort of role. I guess once I had pipelining and doing tie-in welds on big gas projects here in QLD, I’d hit it, thinking, “I’m here! This is where I’d always wanted to get to. This is the life”. But I didn’t really feel fulfilled or happy.
I realised that it was what I knew it would be, but it wasn’t fulfilling, it was just a job. It’s an intense job and you become a certain type of person. When I stepped back I didn’t really like that sort of person…For a long time I always thought, “There has got to be something out there, you can’t do this forever”.
Getting Involved at TRACTION
I actually met Sandy on one of my weeks off – I was riding motorbikes around a lot and sort of looking to try and meet more people. ELLASPEDE had an event so I just went to that by myself and rocked up there. I ended up sitting down next to Sandy and just having a chat. I had seen TRACTION at the “Ride BMX Day” so I knew a little bit about the program already. I’d grabbed a flyer and pinned it up on my wall and I’d been meaning to get involved one day. Then one evening I just so happened to sit next to the man who had started it all, it was kind of meant to be!
I started volunteering with the kids at the West End workshop on my weeks off and when I had some free time. I couldn’t believe, it was quite shocking how it affected me and how I felt afterwards. I would leave every day and was just buzzing; you see a lot of yourself as a kid in the students and I could really relate with the kids. I can still remember being a kid and wanting to do something different and fun when you’re not that into school.
Mentoring at TRACTION
TRACTION, I think, has a purpose. It is meaningful and rewarding, I see it as being important because it’s kind of early intervention. You can make a lot of choices as a youngster that can lead you down different paths BUT you will always remember those positive experiences with adults that are not school teachers or parents, they are not authoritive, they are just normal adults. You deal with a lot of people (as a kid) that are telling you, “You can’t do this and you can’t do that”. TRACTION gives an alternative view of adults that as kids you don’t really get to experience all that often. The hands-on learning and building of a bike is perhaps lost and forgotten, and there aren’t as many kids that do this sort of stuff anymore. It is so simple, but it is so powerful.
What I want young people to know
Just trust your instincts. I think currently a lot of kids worry too much about other people, and it’s worse than when I went through it all, with a lot more social pressure. The sooner you figure out that the only person in the world that you can control is yourself, the easier it’s going to be. Just stick with that.
You are not going to be a kid forever, we always seem to want to grow up faster but we should just try and enjoy it. I hope that the kids I mentor realise that you don’t have to become a product of your environment; you can change and you have the ability to do something different if you want to, it is totally possible. That’s what I would like to get across.
Don’t sweat the small stuff, don’t take it all too seriously, it happens quickly. If there is something you do want to do or you want to be, but you cannot see it right now, just keep going. Everything that happens now is preparing you for the moment when you want to go for it. I want to influence them to be whoever they want to be, and not get caught up in everything else…
In my life, it has been about taking opportunities that have led to something else… Be confident to take them. If you think it is a good idea, try it. It might not necessarily be your end goal, but it will help you get there. Be prepared to take those little steps to get to be where you want to be.
Outside of TRACTION, it’s a lot about my son, he is nearly two now. I am fortunate that I can be around a lot for him. I pick him up most days from day care or from his Grandad’s house and hang out with him in the afternoon. My partner works quite long days, so I am lucky to be able to do that. I still get to ride bikes; I have adjusted now to the bikes that I can ride, and I am grateful that I am able to do that. It is mostly about my family and going along at a nice steady pace and enjoying it all..