Ben Mullin, Riekes Fernside Alumni

A successful photographer and cinematographer

Ben Mullin attributes much of his success to the Riekes Center. Ben began training with Gary at Fernside when he was set on being a football player at Menlo High School. Ben has established himself as a successful award-winning cinematographer, who has worked on a wide range of projects including sports/action media, commercials for the US Navy, documentaries, and mainstream television shows. Ben was twice nominated at the 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in 2016 for his cinematography, and won an Emmy for his work on “Life Below Zero”, produced by BBC and airing on National Geographic. "Once I realized, through weight training with Gary, that long term goals are the product of many short term goals that you follow through on, it opened my mind to the idea that I could really do anything I was passionate about if I just had a plan...I'm certain that the early lessons I realized at the Riekes Center were integral to helping me achieve what has become a passion and goal of travel the world and film interesting people and places." Which is exactly what he was doing when we caught up with him for this interview.

Where are you from, what’s your background, what do you do now?

I grew up in Atherton, CA with two siblings - my brother Robert, who is a year older and my sister Roxana, who is 5 years younger - and attended Menlo High School. I began going to the Riekes Center the summer before my freshman year. I decided to start going because I was interested in athletics, and my older brother was already going. I currently live in Truckee, CA, and I work as a cinematographer and photographer on sports/action projects, commercials, documentaries, and television shows.

What are some of your favorite things?

Book: My favorite author would probably be Bill Bryson, whose book A Short History of Nearly Everything got me hooked on his writing style and exploration of the mundane and grand.

Food: My favorite food at long last, has become...fruit.

Music: I generally like any music that is clever. That doesn't mean it has to be complicated, just clever such as a new take on an old melody, something interesting but not gratuitous. I'm a drummer so the drum track on any song tends to be the loudest to my ear, but it doesn't have to be the dominant instrument of the song. I appreciate when the drumming (and all instruments and vocals) compliment one another so well that you can't even imagine them being different than the way they already are. Like the Beatles, for instance - everything just fits.

 How would your friends describe you?

I hope my friends would describe me as reliable, adventurous, capable, fairly methodical, quirky in some ways, and a champion napper.

Tell me about how you met Gary and/or were introduced to the Riekes Center?

My brother is a year older than me and started working out with Riekes his Freshman year at Menlo in 1983. This was back when the entire thing was just Gary and his house full of weights and gadgets. I saw that my brother really enjoyed it, so it was natural that I would want to give it a try as well. I started going when I was 13 years old during the summer before my freshman year, so the summer of 1983.

What activities did you participate in at Fernside?

Back then it was really just a weight training/workout program. But the vibe of mentorship and community was the same as it is now, so the appeal was in many ways the same way back then. I guess you could say it's the same now as it's always been, which is also why the Riekes Center has always been such a wonderful institution.

Do you remember your first impressions of Gary?

Oh yes. I remember being dropped off at the Fernside house and wandering down the hallway to an open door. I remember looking in to see this man (looking exactly as he does now, I swear he hasn't aged!) lying in a hospital bed and talking energetically to three or four other kids who were sitting in chairs that ringed the edge of the room.

Do you remember what your first goals were? Did you accomplish them?

My first goal was to be on the Menlo football team. I remember that after starting the workout Gary created for me, I almost immediately felt stronger and more confident. That was of course after I got over being so sore that I could barely move. To a 14-year-old kid it felt like magic. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot on the football team that year.

Did you try something at Fernside that you had never done before?

Even though I was a really active kid, weight training and sport specific training was totally new to me. So everything was new and very exciting to me.

How has the Riekes Center impacted you?

I can say without a doubt that with the exception of my family, the Riekes Center has had a greater impact on my formative years than anything else I can think of. Athletic fitness is a central pillar of my life. It helps me think, focus, center, set goals, relieve stress, and it has been a source of passion that has been an essential part of the foundation of my being. And the feeling of community surrounding Gary and the center is something I feel is always there for me. I return whenever I can to sneak in a workout, because no matter how I feel going in, I always leave feeling great. That may sound like a line, but I swear it's true.

Are you still involved with the Riekes Center? If so, how?

I live up in Tahoe/Truckee, but I always like to visit the Riekes Center when I'm in the area to see my family. After graduating from Menlo High School, I spent a number of years helping Riekes as an assistant coach for the Menlo JV football team. I would help out during their pre-season practices and early season games before my school year began at UCSB...thankfully, Menlo started early and my school year at UCSB started late! Lately I have tried whenever I can to help out the visual arts department by filming interviews with some of my contemporaries (as well as some of the current students and staff) about their Riekes experiences. And I always try to hit the yearly Rally for Riekes.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about the Riekes Center?

Sometimes I find myself trying to explain the Riekes Center to someone who knows nothing about it. Although there are some simple ways to try to describe it - warm, accepting, community, friendly, caring, mentoring, fun, exciting - I often feel like no matter how I try to describe the Riekes Center, I can't really manage to do it justice with just simple words. I always end up wishing that I could just take the person with me to the Riekes Center so they could see it with their own eyes and feel it with their own heart. This again might sound like a line, but it's true. I truly love Gary and the Riekes Center!