By Riley Manning
TUPELO – Most mornings Johnny Bruce arrives at work before dawn at Crossfit Tupelo’s gym to warm up – and pump up – the bleary-eyed 6 a.m. class for a daily hour-long workout.
Jovial and enthusiastic, Bruce little by little coaxes laughs from the sleepy Crossfitters. By the time the workout begins, they are awake and ready to go.
“I try to keep the energy level up,” Bruce said. “If I can get them to crack a smile, it might be the one piece of encouragement they need. I don’t care if I have to embarrass myself to do it.”
Crossfit workouts emphasize “constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement,” but Bruce’s satisfaction comes from the sense of community it fosters. In any given class, beginners work right beside athletes training for competition, and everyone cheers each other on.
“When someone hits a goal, I get just as excited as they do,” he said. “I try to remember everyone’s name and talk to them. Hopefully they realize I don’t just care about their fitness, but I care about them in general.”
Bruce’s love of helping others came when he accepted Christ while attending Freed-Hardeman University. Troubled in the wake of his father’s death during senior year of high school, he said placing God in the center of his life gave him the perspective needed to move forward.
Upon graduating, Bruce served as a police officer until an on-the-job altercation left him needing shoulder surgery. A two-sport athlete in college – baseball and soccer – Bruce feared his active lifestyle and five-year career as a cop were over.
“I found a Crossfit gym by accident and loved it,” he said. “When I started doing it, my rehab for my shoulder went through the roof.”
Somewhat recovered, Bruce bought some basic equipment and started replicating Crossfit workouts with his fellow officers. He met the owner of Crossfit Tupelo, John Prince, by chance and was soon hired as a part-time trainer. Early in 2013, he was offered a full-time position.
But Bruce was hesitant to leave law enforcement.
“Cops always see people at their worst, but we also see how bad some people have it. It’s hard to tell those people they’re going to be OK,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you’re the person people call when they need help, and that’s very humbling and rewarding.”
Bruce mulled his decision over in prayer, gaining input from his family and pastor.
“My pastor said, ‘What does your wife want you to do? What does your mom want you to do,’ and I said, ‘Be a trainer,’ and he said, ‘Then what’s the problem,’’ Bruce said. “I was just scared of change, but you have to take that jump and trust God. When God opens doors for us to walk through, it’s because he wants us to be happy. We just have to trust.”