Three years ago, he was in tough shape.
Tipping the scales at 190, there was, by his count, 30 extra pounds on his 5-foot, 9-inch frame.
Reality hit this former political consultant when he carried his then 1-year-old daughter Ruby on his shoulders while hiking up Rattlesnake Canyon.
“I couldn’t believe how winded I was,” says Ben Romo, currently holding the world’s longest job title: Director, Community Education and Special Programs and Executive Director, Partners in Education for the Santa Barbara County Education Office, a position he’s held for SB County Superintendent of Schools Chief Bill Cirone since 2005.
It launched a healthy lifestyle change …
But first, he had serious, self-inflicted hurdles to overcome as a dedicated, life-long non-athlete who never played team sports.
There was much work to do on his physique — more on his psyche.
Personal trainer Shawn Banks of Ignition Fitness had his work cut out for him.
First up was overcoming Romo’s insecurities in the weight room, pent up from four years of beefy SB Don football players benching steel bars loaded with more than thrice his own then-skinny poundage.
“Once I learned the exercises and got a feel for the weights, I was more comfortable,” he says.
Then it was addressing the notion that ‘working out had to be painful,’ he admits.
“Shawn taught me ‘reps and relax,’ more repetitions with lighter weight and concentrating on certain muscle groups more effectively. It’s actually now fun,” Romo told Presidio Sports.
“Ben was intimidated at first but he got into it and got impressive results in the first two months with his endurance, weight loss and reduction in body fat,” Banks explains. “He’s great to work with and he’s now in the best shape of his life!”
Lastly, this very busy dude had to convince himself that working out was a good investment of his time.
Ruby, now age 4, was ‘the ticket’ here as Romo loves being an active dad and exploring Santa Barbara with her as often as possible.
Keeping in healthier shape translated into having more energy, more zest for life, more fun bonding opportunities.
And this coming weekend, there’s a new solo twist for him …
He’ll officially beef up his athletic resume and add yet another impressive title: TRIATHLETE.
He’s signed up for the Santa Barbara Triathlon long course after privately confiding to his staffers that he would do so if Partners in Education, the organization he leads, won Montecito Bank & Trust’s community voting contest to be named as the non-profit beneficiary of the triathlon.
That’s long course as in 1-mile swim, 34-mile bike and 10-mile run.
It’s believed that most normal people — had they been in Romo’s (running) shoes — would have opted instead for the Sunday Sprint Triathlon — a mere 500-yard swim, 6-mile bike and 2-mile run — for their first-ever triathlon.
But, Ben Romo is no ordinary guy.
So when he got ‘the call’ he was hoping for from MBT President Janet Garufis in February, he publically declared his triathlon candidacy.
About the speculation that he got carried away in the wild euphoria of winning:
“No. I had carefully considered this as a personal challenge as I had already worked myself into pretty decent shape. It’s time to take the plunge,” he says.
Of course, there was ‘mucho’ self-imposed pressure on winning this election/selection contest in the first place, especially for someone who first cut his campaign teeth on Walter Capps’ 1996 successful congressional bid and who has led 13 (he’s 12-1 for those scoring at home) primaries, special and general elections for clients – especially for beloved Lois Capps’ congressional charges after Walter’s passing months after he took office.
“We had a ground swell of support for public education. We had to win!” Romo tells of the most recent triathlon election contest.
So, as summer cranked up, so did his training — longer bike rides to more distant locales like La Cumbre Peak; increased running mileage and transitioning his swims from chlorine to ocean salty.
And for a taste of real competition …
“The Tuesday night Reef and Run swim and run series is just perfect for me,” Romo adds. “Despite growing up right here in SB, I’ve never been a swimmer — that’s been the biggest challenge so far.”
Santa Barbara Bank & Trust even tossed him an athletic scholarship to Reef & Run to further his competitive conditioning.
Rah-rah support and encouragement has come from many other directions, as well.
Local triathlon legends, Joe Howell and Steve Ainsley, paved the way for something very special …
“I bumped into Ben only moments after telling Joe Howell that it was time to sell the triathlon bike given to me as a going away gift when I left SB in 1999,” Ainsley, president and publisher for Miller-McCune Magazine said, “… and the notion of Ben having my bike was a natural … sort of the perfect Santa Barbara ‘pay it forward’ moment. The three of us worked it out and all I can say is we have one very enthusiastic first-time triathlete getting ready for Saturday’s race.”
It’s been a ‘community team effort’ and Romo will put it all on the (starting) line.
“Ben’s enthusiasm is infectious and it’s been a pleasure working with the entire Partners in Education staff,” says Joe Coito, Santa Barbara Triathlon Race Director. “We are honored to be raising funds for an organization that does such great things for our educational system. I’m looking forward to watching Ben cross the finish line with a big smile on his face.”
And here’s something from someone who has known Ben all his life:
“Once he sets his mind to something he does it. But I am totally ‘blown away’ with how this commitment has changed his life,” says his dad, John Romo, former President of Santa Barbara City College. “We are very proud of him.”
Safe to say that especially today, on his 38th birthday and at a svelte 160 pounds, Ben Romo is a new man blazing new athletic trails.
In the meantime, as he tapers for his first-ever triathlon competition, you can likely find him doing what he really loves — hiking his old favorite trail.
Or hanging out with his favorite little girl.