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Unlikely duo forms bond
Paralyzed from biking accident, local nursing facility resident works out at 180 Fitness
W Blair and Henshaw 2
Brandon Blair with 180 Fitness helps his client, 57-year-old Bob Henshaw, who was left paralyzed after a biking accident, during three workouts every week. - photo by JULIE LAVENDER/Special

A new year with goals and resolutions like lose a few pounds, join a gym, stop smoking, write a book: Most people set goals or at least contemplate them, but many abandon their dreams rather quickly. Two men in Statesboro, an unlikely pair, are determined, however, to "never give up" on their goal.

The two, personal trainer and client, have perfected their workout so it resembles a dance: three sets of 15, counting, lifting, pushing, straining, sweating - the norm for any workout. Only this is not a typical gym session, because the client, Bob Henshaw, is paralyzed, and the trainer, Brandon Blair, one of the owners of Statesboro's 180 Fitness in College Plaza, gets his workout by lifting Henshaw and placing him at each station.

When Henshaw pedaled away from his home in Ft. Myers, Fla., on Feb. 2, 2014, to continue his triathalon training, he didn't know it would be the last time he would ride his bike, see his home, walk or feed himself.

The youngest resident of Statesboro's Eagle Health and Rehabilitation facility, the now 57-year-old Henshaw broke his neck in a biking accident that day.

Attempting to get home before dark after a 30-mile training ride, Henshaw opted to take a 2 ½-mile-long bike path to avoid the dangers of nighttime traffic.

"I flipped one of my strobe lights to a solid beam about a mile from my house," Henshaw explained. "I looked down just for a second. I have no idea if I veered off the path or hit something, but the next thing I knew, I was looking at the sky."

Henshaw doesn't remember losing consciousness but noticed the stars coming out.

'Something was wrong'

"I knew something was wrong when I couldn't move my arms or legs, but I wasn't ready to admit I was paralyzed," he said.

Henshaw tried to yell but could only whisper. With the back light still flashing, his aluminum bike lay shattered about 20 feet away. His cellphone rested 2 feet from him, and his helmet was broken into four pieces.

He remembered the unlit path closed after dark and feared he would lie there alone all night.

"A guy comes by on a bike," Henshaw continued. "He rides right by me, can't hear me whispering, and I thought, 'There's my only chance.' But I could see a light coming down the path, getting closer - a man and a woman."

The couple, tourists in the area, quickly assessed Henshaw's needs, gave him water from the bottle still strapped to his own bike and dialed 911 on their phone. But the couple, unfamiliar with the area, couldn't tell the rescuers their location. Eventually, Henshaw told them to use his phone, and the coordinates led the rescuers to him.

An active biker, runner, swimmer and triathlon competitor for the last two years, Henshaw spent the following days in the ICU in Ft. Myers and then eight weeks at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.

Henshaw comes to Statesboro

Henshaw had good insurance from his 32-year career in well-drilling and received disability for some time, but when he could no longer work and pay into the insurance plan, his only option was to apply for assistance through Medicaid. He was transferred from the Shepherd Center to Eagle Health and Rehabilitation in Statesboro about 18 months ago.

The workout pair met last March when Henshaw started going to the gym after his sister in New Mexico reached out to 180 Fitness for some help. At first, transportation was provided for Henshaw, but soon, unforeseen circumstances hindered that. Now, Blair picks him up from the nursing facility three days a week.

"We're just two buddies heading to the gym to work out," Blair said.

Henshaw waits anxiously on the porch. The two don't talk much when Blair first arrives, because speaking causes Henshaw's muscles to tighten. Blair rolls him down the ramp and to his car. With a "Ready?" from Blair and a nod from Henshaw, Blair places his forearms under Henshaw's armpits and lifts him to a standing position.

Blair carefully leans Henshaw to his right; Henshaw shifts his left foot ever so slightly. Blair rocks Henshaw to his left, positioning his weight on Henshaw's left foot; Henshaw shifts his right foot ever so slightly.

The rocking-swaying-shifting-backing movements continue until Henshaw is in position. Blair tells him to sit and gently lowers him into the passenger seat, then lifts his legs into the car. After situating Henshaw's wheelchair, the two make the short journey to 180 Fitness.

The slow-motion movements happen in reverse at the gym until Henshaw and Blair are inside.

Again, Blair lifts Henshaw to a standing position. While supporting his client with both arms, he first kicks one wheelchair brake into the off position with one foot, repeats the process with the other foot, then gently slides the chair out of the way with his foot. He leans Henshaw back and forth, waiting while Henshaw moves his feet barely inches at a time. Blair helps him turn around and seats him on the tricep press to build strength.

Blair kneads and wiggles Henshaw's clenched hands into position on the bar.

"His hands are real stiff," Blair comments.

Smiling, he continues, "He's real good at holding onto things, not so good at letting go."

Blair props his foot against Henshaw's to keep it from shifting as his muscles tighten. He places his hands atop Henshaw's, to hold them in place, too.

"I'm barely pushing," Blair clarifies. "It's all him."

Henshaw raises his shoulders, grimaces, pushes down and begins to count.

"As high as you can go," Blair encourages.

"Thirteen, 14, 15," the two count together.

Henshaw pauses, breathes deeply, huffs a few breaths.

Forming a bond

The two chat, joke and banter between sets of 15, but not too much or the leg starts to stiffen.

"Guess what I got, Bob?" Blair asks. "A new truck."

"Traded the other one?"

"Not yet. Gotta clean it up first."

"Well that will take about two months," Henshaw says, chuckling. " You're not the most organized, you know."

They talk about Blair's three kids and Henshaw's four, a son and daughter back in Ft. Myers and twin sons serving with the Marines at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. He also has one grandchild, a 7-year-old, and she is his motivator for getting better.

"I want to back to Florida, to my family. I miss her," Henshaw said. "But my biggest fear is that I won't be able to get to a gym like this and keep working out.

"There's no way I'll ever run into someone who will do as much for me as Brandon, who will push me like he does. When I got to Shepherd, I couldn't move anything - no muscles at all.

"When you have an accident like that, it makes you question. But to meet someone like Brandon makes you believe in God," Henshaw said.

"I haven't given up hope; just trying to get better, get as far as I'm going. I don't know what that is. That's my only option other than death."

He said one of the most discouraging things has been the uncertainty.

"No doctor would tell me what to expect. He just said, 'Well, we don't know. Everybody's different.' "

But the improvement, albeit slow, is what keeps both men going three times a week.

"He makes me feel better about myself, helps me put things into perspective, like time with my kids," Blair said of Henshaw. "He's taught me that at any time, it could be all over. On my bad days, I think of Bob, and it keeps me going."

"My bad days are when I don't get to come to the gym," Henshaw said.

It takes a few hours to complete the seven exercises, three sets of 15 each. Blair's shirt is soaked with sweat, and Henshaw's face and hair are sweaty, his shoulders sore. His fingers and feet tingle, but that's a constant, he says.

Blair grabs a tissue and wipes Henshaw's nose, and the two discuss lunch, their reward for working out.

"It's not always healthy," Blair says with a laugh.

The unlikely pair leave the gym, with the hope that tomorrow, or next week, or the year 2016 will be brighter.



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