Rolf’s life is a story of courage, hope, faith and determination that demonstrates the power of the indomitable 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; The Breibart Award, 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 a nationwide patient advocacy and support program for those facing ostomy surgery and IBD. For 36 years, Rolf has been providing inspiration and encouragement 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. He is the national spokesman for The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), and The Rolf Benirschke Award was created in 2015 to honor community members who have made a significant impact locally for philanthropy, giving back, and leaving a lasting legacy. He was also granted the CCFA national award, The Modell Award for Business Leadership for exemplary volunteer leadership. He has helped raise almost $1 million in an effort to help find the cure for Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
When Rolf learned that he had become infected with the Hepatitis C virus from a blood transfusion he received in 1979, the deadly virus re-awakened his 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. In addition, he started a national awareness and patient support program called, Kick Hep C.
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, TERI, Inc., San Diego Blood Bank, the Zoological Society of San Diego, United Way, Liver Foundation, and Be There San Diego. Rolf is also the Founder and Chairman of the Rolf Benirschke Legacy Foundation; an annual golf tournament raising funds to make a difference in the San Diego community.
Rolf has written three books — Alive & Kicking, his newly revised 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.
Rolf’s visionary work as a patient advocate led him to co-found Legacy Health Strategies in 2009, 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 Lifescience, Ferring Pharmaceuticals, AbbVie, Spectrum Pharmaceuticals, and many more.
Rolf is married to Mary Michaletz Benirschke, a speech pathologist, and they reside in San Diego. The couple has four children, Erik, Kari, Tim, and Ryan. Three of his children have special needs including cerebral palsy, brain injury and developmental delays, which further sparks the couple’s advocacy for those in need and gives them more compassion and understanding of life’s gifts and challenges.