Barbara Benko is riding for the GHOST Factory Racing Team since 2018. The 30-times Hungarian Champion in mountain biking comes from a very athletic family: her mother is a physical therapist and her father was a successful athlete who today owns two bicycle shops and coaches the Junior’s National Team in MTB. It was last year when Barbara recognized an inner struggle, realizing that her body was not able to keep up training and racing hard. We found the time to visit her in Hungary and get a deep look into her life as a professional athlete.

Barbara Benko’s (30) hometown is located about an hour’s drive from Budapest, Hungary’s capital. It’s a far cry from her daily life as athlete competing at the World Cups. There’s no focus on results, likes or reach. Life is defined by the local community, care for each other and the simple pleasures of life. It’s a place where Barbara can switch off and refuel. Something she needed this year more than ever.

Barbara spent years swimming, ever since she was a baby she loved being in the water. Yet after many years, as a teenager she needed a new challenge. Laszlo Benko, Barbara’s dad recalls her telling him. “I don’t like the swimming pool anymore. All the pools are the same. I want to ride a mountain bike.” As an avid cyclist, Laszlo started supporting his daughter in mountain biking. Supported by her parents, who never judged her on her results, it brought Barbara to where she is today. A professional mountain bike athlete, Olympian, and on track to compete in her second Olympic Games in Tokyo 2021.

Barbara “I was like 10 or 11 years old, and I just wanted to destroy everyone on the course. I kept growing every year. But I’ve never had that perfect race. There’s always something in the back of your mind. What will happen tomorrow, what about that race, or that hard training. You can’t do everything you want, and at the same time you just can’t stop.”

This illustrates Barbara’s mindset, which continues to drive her to push. In 2019, she overshot. Struggling mentally and physically she could not find what caused her to perform under her own expectations. Burnt out and over trained, her body gave up. In the midst of the 2019 season, the team banned her from racing and ultimately took away her bikes as she would sneak out when everyone was gone.

“I was in the feedzone giving the other girls the bottles. It was the right thing to do. Now, training is so different.”

More than ever, Barbara’s home soil put her life into perspective. It is her home soil which allows her to switch off. Talking to her family, enjoying life together. No cycling, but a return to the small things. Valued by a human perspective, and not a mere calculation of likes. A simple life which is so fulfilling.

Barbara: “The past two years have put everything in perspective. It is a privilege to be able to call my passion my job. I want to do it as good as I can and I want to be the best athlete I can possible be. But, no matter if win or lose, the sun will set and rise again. I have to celebrate the small wins along the way as well as the small things in life.”


Photos by Attention Builders.

Video by Lars Veenstra.


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