From cocaine to crunches: How this Brooklyn personal trainer used fitness to get his life back
Through his recommitment to fitness, Brooklyn personal trainer Larry Benekin has made the most of his second chance at life.
Through his recommitment to fitness, Larry Benekin has made the most of his second chance at life. Getting his body and mind in fitness shape was a necessary dedication, considering life during Benekin’s first half was filled with failed commitments that led to drug addiction, homelessness and prison.
Today you can find the 47-year-old Brooklyn personal trainer biking from client to client — from businesspeople to media influencers —throughout the borough. And with each burpee and body-weight lunge he doles out to clients, Benekin feels a fulfilled satisfaction pushing others to their fitness limits each session.
“I love this feeling of around a gym life," he says. "I love being connected to people who are motivated to better themselves. That's what athletes do, they're motivated to be better.”
His fitness dedication to others' well being today makes the perfect comeback story for a former high school basketball star whose own life was nearly wrecked after alcohol and cocaine addiction eventually led to seven years of prison for a brutal assault in New York City.
“I'm not proud of any of that,” Benekin says, “but [in prison] I prepared myself to reenter society by using fitness as a routine to build. I needed a routine, not just to stay away from negativity, but just to stay sane [in prison].
At a muscular 6-foot-3, Benekin now resembles an NBA power forward as opposed to his shooting guard days during the late ‘80s with Jersey City national high school powerhouse St.Anthony’s, where he learned parts of his game under legendary coach Bob Hurley. “Mr. Hurley was the best,” says Benekin, who played alongside current UConn head coach Dan Hurley. “He was like, a total father figure to me because my father wasn't in my life.”
But even Hurley’s influence couldn’t prevent Benekin from his first failed commitment — leaving St. Anthony’s for more playing time elsewhere — which may have been Benekin’s precursor to a downward spiral. “In hindsight, I probably should have stuck it out,” he says, “but it just shows if you don't see things through, you never know what the outcome can be.”
After graduating from Phillipsburg High School, Benekin played basketball briefly at a small Eastern Pennsylvania college, but eventually dropped out. Over the course of a decade, Benekin bounced around the country doing odd jobs — New Orleans, Houston, Portland, Virginia, even Easton, Pennsylvania, where he worked at a club owned by former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. Meanwhile, his drug addiction was developing.
"I almost got into boxing because, but I had a functional addiction," Benekin says. "I was literally functioning in life but had this side thing going. I'm drinking and doing drugs the whole time and still staying, moderately in shape. I really didn’t want to go to the gym, but I wanted to keep up the façade of that I was still doing something with my life, so I wouldn’t disappoint people around me.
Benekin joined the military — then skipped out of the military before becoming a fugitive and eventually being caught in California. He was eventually arrested and turned over to military police.
Then rock bottom hit. Returning to the East Coast, Benekin’s drug addiction became worse, leading to living on the streets until one day he became out of control, he attacked a man with a brick in Central Park. He was arrested and sentenced to seven years at Mid State Correctional in upstate New York.
“Whether it was my addiction or my father dying. Prison. Homelessness, I feel like everything that I went through, I had to go through in order to be where I am now,” Benekin says.
Benekin underwent anger management, self-analysis checks while in prison, and he also had the time needed — which meant getting his body and mind right. “I was probably the best athlete there,” he says. “but the drugs really wrecked my body.” Benekin gained nearly 50 pounds, topping at 230, which meant daily runs in the yard and back in his cell, performing any number of body-weight exercises.
“I didn’t care what the weather was,” Benekin says. “If it was minus seven, I was running that yard. I would work out in the yard then would do some sprints around the yard. I did that for five years. Meanwhile, Benekin hit the books in preparation for his release, knowing it was going to be an uphill battle on the outside – especially trying to re-enter society as a trainer.
Benekin got himself back in shape, physically and spiritually, and upon his release, began working in a local Brooklyn gym and eventually landing his first client, whom he still works with. “I love this feeling of around a gym life," he says.
Now with a fitness training career in full flight, Benekin is grateful for the second chance he’s been given. But reconnecting with his past, correcting past mistakes would be the ultimate life recommitment.
“Without a doubt,” Benekin says. “It would be a gift from God. I learned a lot about hard work and setting goals, from sports — St. Anthony’s in particular. Applying the aspects of sports, including a positive attitude about life, discipline and dedication provides a recipe for success. And to bring back the friends who have helped shape me into who I am at this moment would be a blessing.”
Whether going for an outdoor run or a heavy gym session, Benekin suggests adding this full-body, body-weight workout to your routine.
3 sets of:
1 minute plank
10 backward lunges