LANGLEY, British Columbia - Ever since officially signing with Trinity Western in May, it’s been quite a ride for distance runner Fiona Benson.
On the cross country trails she has become one of Trinity Western’s top runners and, at the same time, has continued to develop into one of the lead up-and-coming runners in all of Canada.
But if you ask her, all of her recent accolades on the trails, pale in comparison to the work she has done away from the field play. This past summer she served with Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India and since returning she has continued to be a bastion of servant hood in and around the community of Langley.
But before we get to India, you should know where Benson has come from.
After being home schooled in Dawson Creek, B.C. throughout her elementary school and high school years, officially graduating through the South Peace Distributed Learning School, Benson went to Grande Prairie Regional College for her first year of post-secondary education.
It was there where she, under the tutelage of Bill Corcoran, had her first ever bit of formal cross country coaching. And in just one year with Corcoran, Benson went from a fifth place finish at the 2009 B.C. High School Cross Country Championships to winning the CCAA (Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association) Cross Country Championships, to being named to Canada’s World Junior Team and finishing 64th at the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Spain to winning a silver medal and being Canada’s top finishing junior runner at the 2011 NACAC (North America, Central America, Caribbean) Cross Country Championships in Trinidad and Tobago. All the while, she was also keeping up with her studies as she was named a CCAA Academic All-Canadian.
Following by far her most successful season on the trails, Benson decided to transfer Trinity Western. But before arriving in Langley, she had a much larger and much more important yearning to attend to: Calcutta, India.
After growing up in small town B.C. and staying close to home for much of her childhood, Benson felt she needed to break out of her shell and do something completely different and completely in the interest of helping others.
That “something” was going to Inida to work with Missionaries of Charity.
“I felt it was easy to get comfortably here,” Benson said. “I felt that I should step out and see a bit more of the world,” Benson said. “Mother Teresa has always been inspirational and everyone knows about her work in Calcutta and it seemed like the right place for me at the time. And India seemed like it would be a very different world.”
Benson spent six weeks in Calcutta where she served in a home for children with disabilities for two weeks and then taught English to a number of local children for the next four weeks.
While working with these children, she gave them basic care and was there to help provide companionship and simple interaction. But as is so often the case in missionary work, Benson felt she was equally, if not more, blessed by the people of India than anything she could have done for them.
“The home for the disabled was really neat seeing the people who worked with them and seeing that there was a lot of genuine love,” Benson said. “They had so much patience and were happy to come every day to work with them no matter what progress there was. They just loved these kids. It was a very happy environment.”
For the final four weeks of her stay, Benson taught English to children who were aged six to 12. She worked with kids who had little to no understanding of the English language, teaching them the alphabet, some basic words and numbers.
“It was a very growing experience for me because I had never seen myself teaching before but it was really neat spending time with those children and getting to know them and seeing them every day.”
Reflecting upon her experience, it was certainly a life-altering six weeks.
“I realized I wasn’t as strong as I like to think,” Benson said. “I wanted to see how people serve God everywhere so it was neat to see that side in a whole other culture.
“With this particular organization there was a really simple faith that was beautiful to see. It seemed like a very simple love there. It goes right down to the core of meetings someone’s most basic needs.”
After he six weeks in Calcutta, she returned to B.C. and it was not long before she was bound for Langley to start her first season of CIS competition.
Immediately upon her arrival, it didn’t take long for Benson, who Spartans track and field coach Laurier Primeau referred to as “one of the most well-rounded individuals I have ever met,” to have an impact on her team and the university community.
“Fiona is a calming, confident presence on our team,” Primeau said. “She is consistent in her approach to running, to her school and to her faith and she unwavering in her commitment to all three. Her servant attitude and giving heart is immeasurable and contagious. By now Fiona’s story about her volunteer time in Calcutta has been well told, but there are other examples in her life that demonstrate her ongoing benevolence. Don’t ask her about them though. She doesn’t help those in need so that she can get press. She does them because it is the right thing to do.”
While Benson went about her efforts away from the trails quietly, when it came to her athletic exploits, she was making plenty of noise.
In her first individual race with the Spartans, she finished third in the University of Washington Sundodger Invitational Open event with a time of 22:00.14 in the six-kilometre race.
She followed that up by coming third in the Whistler Spirit Run with a time of 23:11 over six kilometres before finishing eighth place in the Western Washington Classic with a time of 22:11 over a six kilometre route.
Then, after running a tapered down race at the UBC Invitational, she went back to work at the B.C. Club Championships and won the junior women’s five kilometre race in 19:48.
That set her up for her first ever CIS championship race. Racing in sub-zero conditions, she finished the five-kilometre Quebec City race 48th overall in 19:42.1. Her time also placed her 14th amongst Canada West runners and, as such, she was named to the Canada West Second All-Star Team.
She then wrapped up her cross country season by finishing seventh in the junior division, but first amongst B.C. runners, at the Canadian national championships at Jericho Park in Vancouver, completing the five-kilometre course in 18:59.
“Her running qualities speak for themselves,” Primeau said. “While she was disappointed with her finish at CIS Nationals, she has had four outstanding races this season. Her early season third place finish at the Sundodger Invitational was a great start to the year and her win at the BC Club Championships by a 45 second margin was remarkable.”
For her efforts, she was named the B.C. Cross Country Junior Women’s Athlete of the Year.
And frankly, she’s just beginning.
This spring, she will compete on the indoor track in the 1500m and 3000m distances and possibly even the 4x800m event.
Still in her first year at the CIS level and second year of eligibility, for Benson, her ride simply rolls on. As quiet and unassuming as she can make it.
Last Updated: 2011-12-05