Featured Athlete: Bruce Benson

Featured Athlete: Bruce Benson

My name is Bruce Benson and my association with CrossFit includes more than exercise, it also involves recoveries from foot, knee, and hip surgeries (NOT due to CrossFit injuries), as well as a comeback from a recent life-threatening brain tumor and requisite surgery (more on that later).
About me: I’m 52 years old and just celebrated 29 years of marriage to my incredible wife, Liz. We have been blessed with two wonderful children, Nathan (24) and Emma (22). All four of us are CrossFit Lumberton (CFL) members and to us CrossFit is a healthy family activity that’s especially enjoyable when we’re together in the same class. To top it off, through CFL Nathan met, and is now engaged to, one of CFL’s coaches, Shelby Fehnel.
I’ll pause to explain that my joints seem to be rebelling against me (mainly osteoarthritis), so much so that in 2006, at age 39, I had to have my right hip resurfaced (it’s now a metal-on-metal joint). 12.5 years later (April this year) it was my left hip’s turn to be resurfaced. I’ve also required rotator cuff surgery (2009), foot surgery (2017) and arthroscopic knee surgery (2018). CrossFit critics might think that CrossFit caused my woes, but my first hip surgery, rotator cuff surgery, and the initial symptoms of my other joint issues occurred years before I’d even heard of CrossFit. Fortunately, CrossFit is very adaptable and can easily be scaled. The coaches are also great at ensuring an athlete works within his/her capabilities and/or limitations. In my case, for instance, I utilize a rower or stationary bike instead of running (among other adaptations).
In my mid 40’s, Nathan, in college at the time, joined CrossFit Lumberton and started realizing immediate results. I first thought, “I’m not drinking that Kool-Aid”, but as he grew stronger and leaner I began thinking that the structured workouts, incorporating weights and cardio, might provide the additional “push” I needed to stay healthy as I grew older. With that in mind, I attended some of the free Saturday classes and “bring-a-friend” days. I became hooked and in the summer of 2014 became a member. As a bonus, I found that what Nathan had been telling me was true; the coaches and athletes are friendly, supportive, non-judgmental, have similar goals, and are simply great to be around. In short order, at 47yrs old, I was climbing ropes, gaining strength and stamina, getting leaner, and even learning how to do muscle-ups. Last year, despite my 12yr old metal hip and prior surgeries, I was squatting, deadlifting, bench pressing, etc. more weight than I did during my college days. Of course, my recent brain surgery and second hip resurfacing have put a temporary damper on that – but I’m now clawing my way back. I also decided to address my diet last summer, counting macros and calories and eating less “junk”. When my body fat was measured in August (by immersion method) it was 6.7% (after recent events I figure I’m holding at ~8%).
Concerning brain tumor surgery: On January 9, 2019, a week after a family holiday vacation to Hawaii and without prior major symptoms, I suffered the worst headache of my life – so severe that I was nauseous and vomiting. After a visit to the local emergency center (Altus in Lumberton), which included a CT Scan that found the brain tumor, I was taken by ambulance to Memorial Herman Hospital in Houston. There, after an MRI, Dr. Arthur Day told my wife and daughter that without surgery I “was not going to come out of this”. After some delays due to others’ even more dire emergencies, the next evening, from approximately 8:00-11:30pm, Dr. Day performed a craniotomy and removed the tumor. It was large – according to the MRI report its maximum dimensions were approximately 2” x 2” x 3.25”. Fortunately, despite its size, the tumor turned out to be localized, accessible, removable, and the biopsy indicated it was non-malignant. We were told that the tumor was probably growing very slowly for years before finally “shifting” and causing my brain to bleed. It was the bleeding that caused the headache and “took me down”. On July 10th I had my 6 month follow-up MRI and consultation. The results were the best news I could hope to receive: the tumor had been entirely removed, no other anomalies were present, and my brain has re-adjusted (expanded) mostly back into its normal shape (see before after MRI images).
Once the news of my tumor got out, and even before the surgery occurred, the true character of our CrossFit Lumberton extended family emerged. Many members and coaches reached out, offering thoughts, prayers, and any help we might need. After returning home two days post-op, and without anyone asking, CFL initiated a “food train” so that my family had one less thing to worry about while caring for me during my initial recovery. Because my immediate family and of Liz’ nearest sister (and family) live over 100 miles away (Cypress and Tomball respectively), and with the rest of Liz’ family in Indiana, having this extended family support was truly a blessing. A few days after surgery Liz took me, unannounced, to CFL between classes just to say hi. As soon as I walked in (with Liz keeping me steady) everyone stopped what they were doing and came over to shake my hand and/or give me a careful hug. About two weeks later, as I started lightly exercising, I had plenty of help moving equipment (setting up, taking down, etc.), as well as plenty of encouragement. I had been directed by Dr. Day and his team to be active (helps the brain) but to avoid straining for six weeks (to keep intracranial pressure off my brain) so my exercise was comprised of little more than light rowing, slow stationary biking, and low box step-ups. After those six weeks, however, I “started back” in earnest and commemorated nine weeks post-op by performing nine ring muscle-ups (I admit I’m rather proud of that).
Concerning my second hip resurfacing: With the okay of both neuro and orthopedic surgeons I went ahead and kept my previously-planned surgery date in April. Of course, this resulted in another layoff and (still ongoing) recovery, but as before, I’ve had all the help and encouragement I’ve needed. Throughout all of this CFL has been very good to me, allowing me to use the facility’s equipment even when I’m not able to participate in the programmed workouts. The availability of the exercise equipment (and the help and encouragement from members and coaches) has been invaluable.
To put it mildly, I have a new appreciation for life and am enjoying every moment. CrossFit Lumberton has been instrumental both in improving my overall health and in helping me recover from my health issues. I love working out (and hanging out) with my CFL extended family. If you’re thinking about CrossFit, please give it a try. If you decide it’s for you like I did, I doubt you’ll find a better “CrossFit box” than CrossFit Lumberton.

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