Rolf’s life is a story of courage, hope, faith and determination that demonstrates the power of the human spirit and serves as an inspiration for everyone.
As the third most accurate placekicker in NFL history at the time of his retirement, Rolf Benirschke had an illustrious 10-year career with the San Diego Chargers. But Rolf was a reluctant football player, having grown up in a medical family with a world-renowned Pathologist for a father, who was always challenging him to make his life count for something more. Little did Rolf know that he would have that chance, not only because of his athletic prowess but because he would be diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in his second season. He would be forced to embark on a journey that would lead to deep despair and self-discovery. It would require four major abdominal surgeries and challenge his very life before returning him to the highest of heights. He would go on to take all of the lessons he has learned and devote his time and energy to inspiring others.
Rolf received numerous honors during his career including NFL Man of the Year; Comeback Player of the Year; Philadelphia Sports Writers Association Most Courageous Athlete; NFL Players Association Hero of the Year; NFL Justice Byron Whizzer White Award; and was selected to play in the Pro Bowl. In 1997 he became the twentieth player to be inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame, and was named to the Chargers’ All-Time team. In 2004 he was inducted into the Academic All-America Hall of Fame.
In his second season with the Chargers, Rolf was stricken with a life-threatening disease that led him to create Great Comebacks®, a patient advocacy and support program sponsored by ConvaTec. Great Comebacks is now celebrating over 30 years of success providing support and inspiration to patients around the world who live with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, colorectal and bladder cancer or other circumstances that can lead to ostomy surgery.
Rolf has spent his life giving back to others and is an accomplished author, television personality, and inspirational speaker. He routinely addresses national sales meetings, major corporations, leadership and team building events, physician and nurse conferences, and church groups . He is also involved in numerous philanthropic organizations including United Cerebral Palsy, UCSD Medical Center, the Zoological Society of San Diego, United Way, and the San Diego Blood Bank. Rolf is also the national spokesman for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America and the Founder and Chairman of the Rolf Benirschke Legacy Foundation.
Rolf has written three books — Alive & Kicking, his autobiography that details his battle with ulcerative colitis and Hepatitis C, Great Comebacks from Ostomy Surgery, and Embracing Life, two books featuring inspirational stories of people who have survived and thrived following ostomy surgery.
When Rolf learned that he had become infected with the Hepatitis C virus from blood transfusions he received in 1979, the deadly virus re-awakened his competitive fire to fight back. After three difficult yearlong treatments fought over an eight year period, Rolf learned in 2004 that his body was clear of the virus. He became a spokesperson for the 4 million Americans infected with the virus speaking for the National Center for Disease Control, the American Liver Foundation, and many other organizations to raise the awareness of this silent killer and to encourage patients to get tested and treated. In addition, he started a national awareness and patient support program called, Kick Hep C.
Great Comebacks and Rolf’s visionary work as a patient advocate led him to co-found in 2009 Legacy Health Strategies, an industry-leading strategic marketing firm that develops patient support, disease awareness, and treatment compliance initiatives for medical device and pharmaceutical companies. Legacy Health Strategies works with companies like NuVasive, Edwards Life Science, AbbVie, Spectrum Pharmaceuticals, to name a few.
Rolf is married to Mary Michaletz Benirschke, a speech pathologist. The couple resides in San Diego and are the parents of four children, Erik, Kari, Timmy, and Ryan. Three of his children have some type of disability, which gives him even more compassion and understanding of life’s gifts and challenges.
Rolf Benirschke is a compelling story teller and inspiring speaker, whose humble and conversational style connects with his audiences immediately. While sharing his own journey of challenge and courage and all that he has learned from the many trials he has experienced over the years, he is able to address a variety of audiences and is a master at tailoring his message to connect, getting individuals to discover their own indomitable spirit, while leaving a legacy of hope wherever he goes.
Rolf routinely speaks at national conferences or sales meetings for major corporations, pharmaceutical and medical device companies, and at health related events across the country. He is also a versed Master of Ceremonies, Panel Discussion Leader and University Commencement speaker. Some of his engagements include:
On November 9th 2014, Rolf Benirschke was the Guest of Honor of Major General Vincent Coglianese and speaker at the Marine Corps Officers’ Ball which celebrated the 239th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. At this annual evening of tradition, Rolf shared his personal story and how he had been inspired to persevere during the darkest times of his illness by books written by Marines who had been held captive in POW camps during the Vietnam War. It was an inspiring evening but humbling for Rolf as he thanked the Marines for their service and commitment and the example they set for all of us. Over the past few years, Rolf has developed a personal friendship with General Vincent Coglianese (pictured below) and through the Legacy Foundation has helped provide funds for programs that support military families during their times of need.
“Rolf is an extraordinary speaker who understands the value of communicating an organization’s mission and vision. He speaks with compassion, intellect and sincerity.”
Paul Viviano, CEO, UC San Diego Health System
“Thank you for making the MDMA Annual Meeting such a memorable event. Your inspiring story reinforced the importance of innovation in patient care.”
Mark Leahey, President& CEO, Medical Device Manufactures Association
Legacy Health Strategies (LHS) was founded by former professional football player and patient advocate Rolf Benirschke and marketing strategist Greg Anton. The company’s mission is to create and manage innovative patient support and disease awareness programs that aid patients facing difficult health challenges. Clients include medical device and pharmaceutical companies that desire to better support their patients and create a competitive advantage through patient acquisition and activation strategies, that lead to improved adherence and a much better patient experience. http://legacyhealthstrategies.com
In 2001, The Legacy Invitational was founded by Rolf Benirschke and a group of close San Diego business leaders. This special group shared a vision to create an invitational golf event that brought together colleagues and community leaders who shared a passion for golf, a desire to build enduring relationships based upon trust and respect, and the desire to make a difference in the community of San Diego. It was the vision of the inaugural Legacy committee to limit the field to 100 personally invited golfers and combine the building of deep and personal relationship with raising money for selected charitable causes. They have raised over 5 million dollars for a variety of charities benefitting the San Diego community making a significant difference in the lives of many, many people.
The Great Comebacks Program began in 1984 under the leadership of Rolf Benirschke, with support from ConvaTec. It was designed to raise awareness of quality of life issues for people living with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, colorectal cancer or other diseases that can lead to ostomy surgery. After 36 years, the Great Comeback community has spread far beyond its original borders, raising awareness around the globe through inspirational individuals who have chosen to share their stories and offer hope to others facing these diseases and transitioning to life after surgery.
Leading the Way is a cultural change initiative the leadership at UC San Diego Health System asked Rolf to be involved to help transform the experience for patients and physicians and colleagues in the health system. Rolf was invited to join the team because of his passion and experiences as a patient and his ability to communicate and bridge the gap between medical professionals and the people they serve.
Hear the words of Great Comebacks® Program founder Rolf Benirschke, who first shed light on living with an ostomy with his return to the NFL after surgery.
Rolf’s recent documentary interview, filmed when he led a symposium on IBD with Dr. Corey A. Siegel at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.
Rolf Benirschke’s interview on Sports Talk, a live sports show on ABC News Channel 8 in Washington D.C.
Watch as Rolf is given a second chance to live and kick in one of the most remarkable games in NFL history.