Life never stops moving, and neither do we. Even though how we move might have changed over the past year (picking up the remote or going for a solo hike vs. a group yoga class or brunch with friends), our lives are always in motion. We’re here to celebrate all kinds of movement, big or small (and yes, we do count snuggling up on the couch with Netflix as movement), exciting or restful.
We caught up with Ben Hagkull, freelance photographer, Team Canada wheelchair basketball player, and one of the most humble humans I know to talk about what movement looks like for him, his thoughts on accessibility in the outdoors and the 13 triathlons he’s participated in (WHAT).
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself!
Hi! My name’s Ben. I’m a 22-year-old freelance photographer and Canadian wheelchair basketballer living in Victoria, BC. I was born with Spina Bifida, which left me paralyzed below the knees.
Q: What does movement look like for you on the regular?
I consider myself to be a very active guy. In a regular week, I am either training on the court, out on the track, lifting weights, or going on adventures and exploring new places. I find a lot of joy in what I do and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else!
Q: Have you always integrated a lot of movement in your day-to-day? Who or what encouraged you to pursue basketball and outdoor adventures?
There is rarely a time now that I am not doing something active. Both basketball and photography have gone hand in hand in keeping me active and I enjoy every second.
But, before being introduced to wheelchair basketball, my dad and I participated in 13 triathlons as a father-son duo. In a triathlon, there are swimming, biking, and running portions of the race. Of course, we had to adapt a lot so I could participate.
With swimming, he would wear a harness attached to the dingy I would sit in. With the biking portion, I rode behind him on a trail-a-long bike. With the running, he would push me in an adapted racing wheelchair, on which we welded a lawnmower handle. You could say he did most of the work. As I got older and heavier, that dream started to fade for both of us. I wanted to do something on my own. In came wheelchair basketball.
My love for wheelchair basketball started when I was seven years old. It was something I could enjoy doing with my friends, and it made me feel like a normal kid. 2009 was the year that I realized I wanted basketball to be much more than that. The Canadian men were playing at the Richmond oval in a tournament called the America’s Cup. Sitting on the sidelines and watching how fast and how intense and how talented these basketball players were made me realize that I could be there someday. I wanted to become the best player I could be.
A lot of my inspiration for photography comes from a few of my close friends and where I grew up. My friend Zack encouraged me to get a camera, and since then, I’ve made many friends who like to take photos and be out in nature as much as I do. Being in British Columbia and being surrounded by beautiful mountains, bodies of water, and forests, it’s pretty easy to find amazing landscapes and take breathtaking photos wherever you look. I feel blessed to live where I live!
Q: You really enjoy nature photography. Tell us about how you got into that and what gets you excited to go out and shoot.
Haha yeah, I do! Before I picked up a camera four years ago, I don’t think I ever really appreciated nature the way I do now. I definitely wasn’t stuck inside all day, but I just never found excitement exploring the outdoors. When I started taking photos and learning about composition, I focused on my surroundings a lot more. From then on, I started to fall in love with nature. Now, I’ve started taking as few images as possible when I go out and just found beauty in the scenery around me.
Q: Do you have a favourite image that you’ve captured?
I think one of my favourite photos I’ve taken would be one from this past Fall. I just moved back to Victoria for the start of the school year and the leaves were already turning color. I had just recently purchased a new camera, so the stoke levels were very high! There was this spot about 20 minutes from my house where two massive trees crossed over a path in a kind of arch. I had been there a couple of times, but I never had great conditions or results that I was happy with. I had a free evening and with the golden leaves all around, I knew this was my chance to capture something truly spectacular. So, I went out about two hours before sunset to make sure I didn’t miss the opportunity, got to the spot, set up my camera with a self-timer, waited till the lighting was just right, placed myself in the frame, and about thirty minutes and several failed attempts later, I captured what is still my favourite photo I’ve ever taken.
Q: What’s it like being on a national-level sports team?
I treat basketball like a full-time job. You know, first and foremost, it’s a lot of hard work. But for me, it’s also a lot of fun. I do find a tremendous amount of peace on a basketball court. The game has this amazing way of humbling you, every day, to realize that there is so much more that you can do. For me that feeling of joy that I get while playing has gone with me from the very beginning until now. I think that feeling is what keeps me excited about what I do. Yes, it is my job to play basketball, but it’s also what brings me joy, so I’m extremely fortunate in that way. And I think that’s what makes me want to keep growing because I’m never going to be satisfied with where I’m at as a player. I want to continue to grow and develop and see just how good I can become.
Time management for me is huge because not only do I train every day, I also go to school and am a freelance photographer. I need to manage what time I do have left because otherwise, one of those things slips out of focus. Oh, and I also need to get eight hours of sleep a night and eat healthy, so yeah, life gets busy.
I think one of the downsides is if you want to be the best, you have to put in the work 24/7, so I have had to sacrifice a lot. I moved out to Victoria a couple of years ago because I knew that there was better training and competition out there. That meant I wasn’t able to see my family and friends every day, but Victoria was where I was meant to be if I wanted to take my game to the next level. We FaceTime as much as we can, but I still miss them a lot. My last few summers I have lived out in Toronto training with the National Team at their facility, and I am planning on moving there to train full time very soon. I think I’ve spent a total of 15 weeks at home the last three years.
Being away from home for so long, you sometimes forget what you have. When you reintroduce yourself into that home environment that you haven’t been in for so long, you’re reminded about the value of it. And I never want to take that for granted when I come to visit. I have an amazing support system around me that understands how much goes into what I’m doing, so I think if I were to have any regrets it would just be time. Time spent with the people I care about.
Q: Have you found that accessibility prevents you from moving how you’d like? What would you like to see change?
Like many other photographers, I find that a lot of inspiration for my photos comes from what others are creating on Instagram. When I find a cool spot to take photos, I do a lot of research to make sure everything is as wheelchair accessible as possible (especially if I’m going out alone). Sometimes it bums me out that I simply can’t go some places because of my disability, but it’s also a blessing in disguise because it forces me to be more creative with how I want to execute a shoot.
One thing that I come across often that I think could change is replacing man-made stairs with a ramp. Of course, some staircases are too steep, but there are many places where it would be gradual enough to have a ramp. And that wouldn’t just benefit wheelchair users, but people with walkers or strollers, or people with other mobility impairments. Doing something like that would encourage a lot more people to get outdoors!
Q: What’s been your favourite outdoor adventure you’ve ever been on? Tell us about it.
I’ve had many outdoor adventures that I’d consider favourites, but I’d have to say this one was the most memorable. I was home for Christmas, itching to get out and take photos, so my Dad and I drove to a place I hadn’t been to in many years, Golden Ears Provincial Park (aka. a nature photographer’s paradise). I had an idea already planned out in my head, so it should have been a straightforward visit, get to the trail, get the photo, and get out. But what we didn’t account for was the winter conditions.
We pulled up to the entrance of the park, only to find the front gate locked up. The road hadn’t been salted yet and it was very icy, so cars weren’t allowed to drive down it. Funnily enough, where I wanted to go was another five kilometers down the road. So what did we end up doing: parking our car, hopping the gate, and wheeling down the road for an hour (both ways). We spent about an hour exploring the trails and taking photos and then making the long trek back to the car. I’ll also add that the jacket I was wearing is not very thick and is in no way waterproof, so I was pretty chilly and took a while to defrost in the car.
There are a couple of things that I took away from this excursion. The first one is the photo. It’s turned into one of my favourites. Second, when it is the middle of winter, a windbreaker and some jeans may look nice, but are definitely not warm enough.
I know it’s cliché to say, but this time the adventure really was more in the journey than the destination.
Whether this conversation with Ben got you pumped to immerse yourself in nature, take up a challenge you’d never thought possible, or encouraged you to wear extra layers on your next hike, we’re here for it.
Looking for some technical pieces that will work with you, no matter what kind of movement comes your way? Take a note from Ben’s book, and check out our activewear for men and women. The technical (and sustainable, of course) fabrics and timeless design allow them to cross over into all of your activities.