Rolf Benirschke goes down in history as securing the third-highest field goal percentage ever in the NFL. He was inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame in 1997 and succeeded for nearly a decade on the football field. But his career, while marked with great success, was laced with unexpected hardships.
Rolf was a celebrated NFL placekicker for the San Diego Chargers from 1978 until 1986. Born in Boston in 1955, he is the son of German immigrants. His father, an accomplished pathologist, valued academics over sports and moved his hockey-loving teenage son to San Diego. The sheer lack of ice forced Rolf to embrace new sports like soccer and eventually football.
However, with a strong academic influence, Rolf focused on school and sports with equal diligence. Throughout his college career he played football and entered the 1977 NFL Draft. Even though he was the last pick that year, his professional football career got off to an exciting start.
Things quickly took a dramatic turn when he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. As described by the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract. Rolf first began experiencing painful symptoms early in the 1978 season, but his health problems became severe when he collapsed on a plane trip home with his teammates. This life-threatening incident led to two surgeries to completely remove his large intestine, followed by two weeks of post-operative care in the ICU fighting for his life. Unable to walk or even sit up, Rolf fell into a deep depression; humiliated by his situation, saddened by the fact that he would never experience life as a “normal” man, let alone a promising professional athlete.
After his release from the hospital, Rolf went from a NFL player of healthy weight to just 123 pounds. Bedridden and frail for months, Rolf had seemingly lost hope that he would survive, nor did he really care anymore. He had to adjust to a new life with two ostomy appliances (later reversed when he underwent a Koch pouch procedure). His goals went from being a great player to being “able to get out of bed and see a sunset.”
It was a long road ahead and after a grueling recovery, Rolf was determined and willing to get back on the field. In a 1979 Chargers game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, still unable to play, Rolf made a dramatic return to the gridiron and was named honorary team captain. The following year, the unwavering kicker returned to his position and continued playing 8 more years until his retirement in 1987, earning countless awards in the process.
Today, Rolf is successfully managing ulcerative colitis, is a married father of four (something he never thought possible), celebrated author and national spokesman for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America and for Hepatitis C awareness among other charitable activities.
Every once in a while an inspiring health story comes along that leaves us filled with hope. The story of Rolf Benirschke is among those stories. Many of us will never know what it is like to play a sport on national television, shake hands with a president and battle for our life before the age of 25, but hardship and perseverance are something to encourage each and every one of us that, with the right lifestyle changes, it is possible to live your best life.
Munch on carrots! Carrots are a valuable source of vitamin A. Not only are these veggies delicious, they can help improve vision and maintain healthy eyes.
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