Harry Bumgarner is as fit and disciplined as they come. He runs 10 miles before bedtime, hits the gym before sunrise, then pulls 12-hour patrol duty. And when Officer Bumgarner isn’t on the clock, you can be sure that he’s on call.

Some weeks come and go without incident in Thomasville. Bumgarner may serve a search warrant one afternoon and work a brutal all-nighter as a member of the SWAT team. Even this city of 27,000 people has its share of stakeouts, murder suspects and hostage situations.

Bumgarner doesn’t mind telling you he’s the oldest guy working those scenes. “Nobody cares how old you are when you’re on a call,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter. You better be able to do everything everybody else can — and more.”

His fellow officers kid him sometimes, but only because the soft-spoken 52-year-old pushes himself harder than most. Maybe too hard.

Injured? Get immediate orthopedic care.

Act now

A freak accident sprang out of that competitive spirit in the summer of 2022, during a routine team-building exercise. Even now, Bumgarner is certain he would have scored and tied the game. But the Frisbee pass was low, so he went low, tucking his left shoulder to roll as he’d done before. This time Bumgarner missed the catch and landed directly on his shoulder.

He lay on the field, in pain. He didn’t need his 17 years of paramedic training to know that something was wrong. He thought maybe he’d separated his shoulder. Bumgarner checked his pulse and range of motion, and there it was— a deformity on his clavicle, like a knot. Bumgarner had broken his collarbone.

And so it wasn’t a SWAT raid but a game of ultimate Frisbee that took down the team’s most physically disciplined officer.

First on the scene

Bumgarner is a sniper, which in SWAT terms means he’s first on the scene for any incident requiring a high-risk response. His professional credo guides him in the heat of the moment: “I’m there to serve a warrant. I’m not there to judge them or convict them.”

Bumgarner wasn’t always in law enforcement, and it wasn’t even his first choice. He’d wanted to be a firefighter, after 9/11, but was turned down for lack of experience. He was told to reapply once he earned his emergency medical technician (EMT) certification. But Bumgarner liked working as a medic so much that he never went back to the fire department.

Six years ago, he made the switch to police officer and joined the department’s first tactical medic team. These medics are embedded with the SWAT team to ensure the security of a high-risk situation and can treat an injured victim, officer or suspect on the spot.

“You’re helping everybody on every call in some capacity,” Bumgarner said, “whether it’s being a counselor or helping them recover property or being their therapist.”

And sometimes, even a seasoned tactical medic — whose job requires wearing heavy body armor for hours on end — needs emergency treatment himself.

An unusual surgery

Dr. Steven Potter, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine physician at Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center, estimates that he operates on six broken collarbones (clavicle fractures) a year. These surgeries are infrequent, and the patients are often between their 20s and 40s.

The age difference aside, Bumgarner reminded Potter of the special-ops guys he treated during his seven years with the Army. Though not a veteran himself, Bumgarner was “an ideal patient,” Potter said, given his physical regimen.

“He’s a crazy-fit guy,” Potter said. “It was kind of a fluke the way he hit.”

In August 2022, he set Bumgarner up in the beach-chair position while under anesthesia. The procedure, known as an open reduction and internal fixation, requires a flat plate and screws to set the collarbone.

“Surgery is not necessarily a guarantee,” Potter said. “We’re here to get people back to living their active lifestyle and give them the right tools.”

The operation took about an hour. “You’re going to feel like you’re back to normal,” Potter told Bumgarner when he woke up. “Do not do what you want to do.”

So he didn’t. Bumgarner followed doctor’s orders and worked only light duty. “I didn’t do anything stupid because I knew I needed to heal correctly,” he said. Because he didn’t rush his recovery, Bumgarner was back to doing everything, including those daily intense workouts, within three months.

“I’m glad Dr. Potter thought far enough ahead to think about not only getting me through whatever I needed to do, but how it would affect me later,” Bumgarner said. “And he was right. I have no issue.”

It’s as if that ultimate Frisbee game never happened. Today, Bumgarner is back to doing what he loves: being first on-scene and helping people in the most unpredictable situations.