Changing my life … one habit at a time

RIP Firm Creator Anna Benson …

I have been an avid exerciser since my early twenties, when I became friends with a forty-something lady who was a regular runner (rather rare in those days) and she introduced me to jogging.  Despite my pack a day cigarette habit, I fell in love with how running made me feel (and, eventually, it helped me to quit smoking) and ran once or twice a day for years.

FirmI remember picking up moderate weight lifting after reading that Marilyn Monroe had used weights.  I was rather skinny in those days and longed for a curvier figure.  For many years I used my little five pound “girlie” dumbbells and ankle weights.

And then came Jane Fonda.  She pretty much revolutionized home exercise – and I was a devotee, doing her workout back when it was on vinyl three to five times a week.

Then along came The Firm.

I can still remember being entranced by the commercial on television, featuring a young Susan Harris in yellow leotard doing aerobic exercises with weights.  The videotape cost $49.99 – quite a fortune in those days – but I convinced my husband to “let” me buy it.  When it arrived in the mail, I could hardly wait for my little one’s nap time so I could test it out.

The instructions stressed:  “Beginners – do NOT use weights.”

But, hey, I wasn’t a beginner!  I was running five miles a day in those days – and working out with Jane!  I pulled out my five pound dumbbells and ankle weights and went to it …

WOW!  What an amazing workout!  I’d never been worked out like that in my life and I felt wonderfully energized.  The music, the sequencing, the cast, the production values – this workout was well worth the $49.99.

When I could scarcely walk the next day I knew that this was the workout for me.

For well over a year I worked out to Susan Harris and volume one at least five days a week.  I had a figure that – seriously – could stop traffic.  My butt became round, tight and lifted … I had SHOULDERS for the first time in my life!  I actually LIKED wearing a bathing suit!

And, for many years I did nothing but Firm workouts, buying every new workout as they came out.  The Firm workouts featured fantastic casts, music and sequencing and were beautifully filmed.  They appealed to my love of beauty – as well as my love of working out – and actually getting RESULTS from my efforts (as Susan Harris used to say “Results you can SEE!” – and I did).

Working out to The Firm gave me a unique combination of feeling strong and powerful – and feeling deliciously feminine as well.  Whenever I’d finish a Firm workout, no matter how I’d felt when I’d started, by the end I’d feel like Shania Twain used to sing:  “Man, I feel like a woman!”

In 1995 I got my first computer and somehow found an online listserv devoted to The Firm workouts and, thanks to that great bunch of women, I shifted from evening to morning workouts and began working out every day at 5 am.

When The Firm’s Tortoise and Hare workouts came out, led by Tracie Long and featuring Anna Benson’s innovative “ballroom aerobics” they were rather panned by some – but I, typically a bit of a klutz, loved the “ballroom” step aerobics and even the Charleston, interspersed with traditional weight work.

In the years to come, The Firm listserv introduced me to the workouts of Cathe Friedrich.  While I never became a fan of her highly choreographed step workouts, still preferring to get outside and run, I loved her weight workouts and began supplementing my Firm habit with Cathe workouts.

I learned, too, that heavier weights gave me better results.  Eventually I was using 25 pound dumbbells and a barbell loaded up to 65 pounds.

Even years later, I would still find inspiration in the ahead-of-its-time  “20 Questions About Fitness” video that the Benson sisters produced early on, which described the science behind their workouts.

Working out in the privacy of home – rather than a gym – was always my preference and The Firm and Cathe Friedrich made it possible for me to exercise at home without sacrificing results.

I would, in fact, still be exercising to the classic Firm workouts if the limited space of my current home didn’t preclude  it.  I now hit the gym on a regular basis – but still miss Susan Harris at 5:00 am.

When I learned yesterday that Anna Benson, who, together with her sister Cynthia had created the original (and best) Firm workouts, had passed away at 59 of stomach cancer, I was deeply saddened.

Tracie Long, one of Anna’s workout stars and a fitness queen herself, posted the following eloquent tribute on her website:

It is with a heavy heart I am notifying our forum members of Anna Benson’s passing.

Anna was living in Panama, Central America. As far as I can tell she had a small fitness studio where she was teaching classes daily.

Anna passed away yesterday, November 23rd in the afternoon.
It is my understanding she was surrounded by loving people who took care of her in her final months.

About a month ago I got a call from Nancy Tucker who told me Anna was terminally ill with cancer. The type of cancer she had is not 100% clear to me. It sounds like a form of stomach/intestinal cancer that had spread by the time she was properly diagnosed. It does not sound like there were many options for treatment at that point.

It is my understanding she will be cremated and her remains sent home to Columbia, SC where her family will have a private burial & memorial.

I was fortunate enough to have contact with Cynthia Benson last week. She gave me Anna’s contact information but I’m not sure my messages were received.

Anna loved me like a daughter. Though we went through many ups and downs together, over our 15 years, and were estranged for the last 5 years, she is my mentor and taught me everything I know. If I were to be very honest I would say she could be very difficult to love at times but my love for her was unconditional and I will never forget her. She remains a part of me & I will continue to express her talents & love for fitness through my work to carry on her legacy.

I can only hope the impact she had on the lives of so many will never be forgotten. I’m not sure Anna really ever got the credit she deserves for the work she did. Please use this forum thread to express your memories, stories and love for Anna.

If I am able to share any information about services, flowers, donations etc…I will pass it on to you first, here on this forum.

And the family posted this official obituary on Anna’s site:

Anna Lynn Benson died on November 23, 2009, in Boquete, Panama. Born in Columbia, South Carolina on December 19, 1949, Anna was a sixth generation Columbian and lived most of her life here. She attended Heathwood Hall Episcopal School and was graduated from Dreher High School in 1967. She continued her education at Stratford College in Danville, Virginia, and was graduated from the University of South Carolina, where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English, a Master’s Degree in Library Science, and a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology. Anna was a member of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

Blessed with intelligence and creativity, Anna developed her interests in fitness and history into many prestigious, noteworthy accomplishments. Always an ardent exerciser, Anna taught swimming lessons as a teenager to many of Columbia’s children. In 1979, she founded the very successful and popular exercise studio, The Body Firm, in Charleston and Columbia. For more than 20 years, she created award-winning exercise techniques and trained numerous instructors in instructional performance. Beginning in 1986, Anna collaborated with her former husband, filmmaker Mark Henriksen, and her sister, Cynthia Benson, to create a best-selling library of exercise videos entitled The Firm. This ground-breaking series generated ongoing business with media giants such as Time- Life, BMG and Broadway Books; world-wide sales of The Firm have exceeded 100 million copies since the release of the first video. Anna also addressed specific needs of older exercisers with her later videos FitPrime and Fitness Favorites. Fitness favorites will continue to operate under the direction of her son Byrd Henriksen, Annette Bethel, and Ezequiel Diaz.

Based on her special interest in the history of the South, Anna also created, in collaboration with Mark Henriksen and Cynthia Benson, two internationally award-winning documentary films about the history and culture of the two Southern cities: The Key West Picture Show (1978) and Dear Charleston (1980) received multiple first-prize awards and five-star reviews from notable sources including the New York Times and the American Film Institute. Reflecting Anna’s insightful interviewing skills and vibrant, energetic perspective, these fresh and entertaining films remain in print today.

Anna is survived by her husband, Herbert Jabloner; her father, Herbert L. Benson, Jr., and his wife, Barbara Quick (Long) Benson; her mother, Anna Marian Stanley Tucker, and her husband, Hubert W. Tucker; her sons, William Byrd Stanley Henriksen and Mark Herbert Phillips Henriksen; and her sisters, Cynthia Benson Clarke of Columbia, South Carolina, Frieda Benson Grimball of Norfolk, Virginia, and Sara Elizabeth Benson of Chicago, Illinois. In addition to the generation of instructors who continue to build on her legacy of achievement in exercise science, Anna also leaves behind countless exercise enthusiasts who continue to use and enjoy her informative, entertaining works.

The family in Columbia wishes to thank Herbert Jabloner, Scott Williams and the doctors and nurses at Chiriqui Hospital in David, Panama, for their expert care and compassion. Memorials may be made to the Oliver Gospel Mission, PO Box 7791, Columbia, SC 29202, or St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 1715 Bull Street, Columbia, SC 29201, or to the Building Fund, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 1100 Sumter Street, Columbia, SC 29201. Friends may call at the homes of her parents.

A memorial service for the family and friends celebrating her life will be held Tuesday, December 1, 4:00 PM at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Columbia, South Carolina, The Reverend Dr. Tony A. Metze, pastor, officiating. Interment will be scheduled for a later date. Shives Funeral Home is assisting the family.

What a lady.  What a life.  Rest in peace, Anna, and know that your innovations changed the lives of thousands of women.

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19 Responses to “RIP Firm Creator Anna Benson …”

  1. Colleen B. says:

    I was incredibly saddened to find out today of Anna’s passing. I owe her a huge debt to helping me work out, achieve my goals, and stay fit. Her videos inspired me. I never knew her personally, yet feel in some ways that I have lost a friend. Anna–thank you for all you did for me. My heart goes out to her family. She will be missed greatly.

  2. Stephanie Henriksen says:

    Anna Benson was part of my family, though she did not come back to the Midwest with my brother Mark often. I am so sorry to hear of her death and wish I could be in Columbia for the service tomorrow.

    She and Mark Henriksen will be remembered for The Firm workouts for many years to come.

  3. Patti Janssen says:

    I am in total shock. I thought the world of Anna. We chatted a few times and I thought she was a remarkable woman.. Her exercise videos are some of the best made. I asked her to convert the old videos into DVD format and she did. I will treasure her always…So sad..

  4. Lisa Ericsson says:

    I am in shock. I can’t believe Anna is gone.

    I bought my first Firm Workout with Susan Harris in 1987 and saw immediate changes in my body.

    I had been such a klutz in primary school and was always the last chosen for a team and now I felt like an athlete for the first time in my life.

    I devoured the magazines they sent me and couldn’t wait for the next release. I have every Firm and FitPrime tape and/or DVD. I never minded paying that $49.99 for the first six cassettes.

    I became a Personal Trainer because of The Firm — although to be honest — I didn’t stay one.

    I talked to Anna on the phone several times and she was absolutely wonderful to me.

    I do the Firm and FitPrime to this day and I am now 55 and have the body of a woman 20 years younger.

    All the other tapes went by the wayside when I discovered The Firm.

    RIP Anna. You changed my life and the lives of my friends who all bought your tapes.

  5. Lori Walters says:

    Though I didn’t meet Anna Benson she changed my life with her workout routines. I started using the videos back in 1988 and still do them to this day! I just found out today, almost a year after her passing, that she was gone. She will always remembered for transforming my life! My sincere condolences to her friends and family.

  6. Bill Petty says:

    I used to do The Firm in Charleston, SC. I followed them to two different venues, then got sidetracked. When did The Firm leave
    Charleston and why? It was downtown, accessible, affordable and effective. I miss it.

  7. Juanita Riechers says:

    I too am saddened by Anna’s passing. I fell in love with the FIRM from Vol. 1 with Susan Harris. This is how I found out the sad news, I was looking for the DVD of the classic. I had started out with Jane Fonda too, and once I tried the FIRM I was hooked. My body changed drastically. I was pretty void of muscles until I started the FIRM. I actually built buttocks! In the last ten years I lost myself, and now, at almost 64 I am going back to the proven solution. I wish I had never stopped. Thank you Anna, and Cynthia for everything you have done.

  8. Thanks for this wonderful post …

    Thank you for give excellent info. Your web is very good.Iam impressed by the information that you’ve on this blog. It reveals how nicely you perceive this subject. Hyperlink to this page, will come back for more….

  9. Ayesha says:

    Its been almost 2 years since her passing and 25 years since Vol. 1 with Susan Harris was released. I recently rediscovered these workouts (and the 90 day rotation calendar) after finally unpacking the last moving box. The classic series continues to be challenging and effective. He legacy lives on in the lives she inspired through her life’s work. Thank you Anna, Cynthia and Mark and God bless.

  10. Lori says:

    I started THE FIRM in 1991,I could not believe the transformation!! It felt wonderful.Susan Harris is the best. Still #1.
    Anna, you will be missed. Thanks to all you gave to your “Firm Belivers”
    Prayers to your family.

  11. Rhonda says:

    I was doing a search to find out if Anna had put out any recent dvd’s, only to find out she passed. I feel shocked and deeply saddened. she was still so young. I send love and light to her family and loved ones. May her memory live on.

  12. Pambie says:

    Thank you to everyone who has commented. It looks like Anna had led a fairly private life and some are still learning of her untimely passing. By the way, I’m back to doing the Firm. They’re still the best!

  13. Sara Sgarlat says:

    I am a FIRM Believer and have a strong appreciation of Anna Benson and the Firm Workouts, I too love the workouts with Susan Harris and also the Cross Trainer Workouts. I have been doing all of the Firm workouts for the last 14 years. I am 64 years old.
    I just found this conversation.
    RIP Anna.

  14. Estella says:

    Anna’s videos changed my life forever, I started working out because of her superb results videos kept me motivated.I owned the original 6 videos. At 51 I still work out to those videos and nobody believe my age.


  15. Pambie says:

    Thank you for writing. I feel the same way. Yesterday I pulled out volume 1 and did the workout. Man! It never gets easy, does it? I was pretty stiff today but I know that I’m on my way to a healthy, firm body. I envision myself doing V. 1 at 75!

  16. Mosa says:

    Two and a half years late, I am just learning this for the first time and sitting in front of my computer crying. Had to say that to some folks who would understand my grief. Thank you for understanding and for posting this in the first place.

    I never met the woman but my life (and my butt) have been dramatically reshaped by her. Thank you, Anna Benson.

  17. Pambie says:

    Awww, thanks for writing. I do understand. Practically from the moment I first made it through volume 1 I can remember envisioning myself still doing that workout at 70! Now, I’m not yet 70 and I certainly can’t do volume 1 every day like my 30something self did, but I can still envision it. The Benson sisters were pure genius!

  18. dendryite says:

    Was looking to see if I could find the first volumes of the Firm on DVD, since several of my extensive Firm VHS tapes have broken after 20 yrs. of use.

    I was saddened to find this news of Ms. Benson’s death. She changed the world of women’s workouts. My first Firm DVD was Vol.2. I bought it at Walmart after returning Jane Fonda (because it didn’t even bring my heartbeat up to 80, lol). Talk about going from an “old lady” workout to a killer! Anyway, I’ve been using these old firm routines all these years, along w/the newer Fitprime & Tracy Long ones as well.

    I hope that Ms. Benson’s family puts these DVDs out in a set so that they’d be a bit cheaper. Since this is the second time I’m buying these, I’m feeling that $23 plus postage is a bit much. Memorializing such a great woman by making money from her good name is pretty horrendous.

  19. [...] Firm’s Anna Benson Dead at 59 | The Life Changing ProjectEven years later, I would still find inspiration in the ahead-of-its-time “20 Questions About Fitness” video that the Benson sisters produced early on, which … [...]

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