Benjamin John Eldridge Collins was born at the Lakeshore General Hospital in Pointe-Claire, Que., on Sept. 28, 1989. His father, Ken, who worked for Air Canada as an IT specialist, and his mother, Kelley Huskins, then a homemaker, had broken up, but they were reunited by Ben’s birth and remained together for one more year.
Kelley called Ben her “miracle baby.” A year before his birth, doctors had told her she would never be able to have children, the result of a terrible accident that nearly took her life. Kelley had been thrown from a motorcycle and pinned beneath its back tire; her best friend, who’d been driving the bike, was killed in the crash.
“From day one he was a happy-go-lucky kid,” she says. His uncle Rick called him the “drool machine,” because he never stopped smiling.
When his parents separated, Ben moved with Kelley to Dollard-des-Ormeaux in suburban Montreal where the toddler, who was developing a sense of humour, liked to pull down his diaper and moon strangers. Eventually they left Montreal, settling near Fredericton; Kelley wanted to raise Ben in a smaller city where she figured he’d have a better life. He returned to Montreal often, to spend holidays with his dad.
Family was a priority for Ben. For a while, he insisted on going everywhere with Rick, who was living with the family at the time. His uncle, however, paid the price for the indulgence: Rick took nine-year-old Ben—a bit of a prankster—to the grocery store. At the checkout, his nephew wondered aloud why Rick, who was flirting with a pretty cashier, needed so much cereal “if you only get out of bed and leave the basement at noon?”
Ben hated math, but made friends easily, especially on the sports fields at Lower Lincoln Elementary School. He played soccer and baseball, but when his father took him to an Alouettes game at Montreal’s Molson Stadium, “that was it,” says Ken. “As soon as he saw them clobber some other team he became a fan. He went and got his first Anthony Calvillo jersey. He wanted to be a pro football player.”
At five foot eleven, Ben was not the biggest player. But he was fast and strong, and played tight end for Fredericton High, devoting all his free time to the game. When he wasn’t playing he was glued to the TV set, watching the Alouettes or the Washington Redskins. He’d even considered purposely failing Grade 12 just to play another year of football when he thought he hadn’t been admitted to university. But Mount Allison did accept him in the end, and he played for the Mounties for a year before transferring to a college in Quebec, where he was guaranteed more playing time.
Three years ago he decided to take a break from school and moved to Ottawa, joining the Sooners, a squad with the Canadian Junior Football League. He spent hours at the gym, shedding 40 lb. to become 192 lb. of pure muscle, says Kelley.
His best friend, Adrian Gregory, says Ben always had a smile on his face, even on his worst day. “He had this laugh—it was kind of goofy, like a long-winded giggle. He’d do it and it made everyone else laugh.”
Last fall, Ben followed Adrian to Edmonton to work on the oil rigs; he later took a job as a staffing consultant with Randstad Canada. Football was on hold for now. He’d found a new passion: motorcyles. “It was all about his bike,” said Adrian. In July, Ben fixed up a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R himself, and got it ready to ride.
But first he had to tell his mom. Ben was her “miracle,” after all; Kelley had barely survived her motorcycle crash and had spent weeks in hospital recuperating. Eventually Ben told her, sending a photo of his green, grey and black Kawasaki—his “new girlfriend,” he told her. He promised to be careful.
“He loved it,” says Adrian. He would be on the bike whenever he could. “He met a lot of friends riding and would go for long rides everyday.”
On Sept. 16, Ben went for a Sunday drive along winding Groat Road, which cuts through the North Saskatchewan River valley. Rounding a bend, he crashed into a guardrail and died instantly. He was 22.