During his second season as the placekicker for the San Diego Chargers, Rolf suffered a life-threatening illness, ulcerative colitis. He needed multiple surgeries and 78 units of blood to survive the ordeal. The community was passionate about their team and followed Rolf’s illness. Out of this support and love, the largest blood drive ever developed began.
For the past 37 years, the San Diego Chargers and the San Diego Blood Bank have partnered for the Annual Chargers Blood Drive. Since inception, over 140,000 units of blood have been collected, impacting thousands of lives.
Each year, it is the largest blood drive in the nation and is even recognized in the Guinness Book of Records. Rolf remains actively involved with the San Diego Blood Bank activities and the Chargers Blood Drive.
Rolf and his family have been long-time supporters of the San Diego Zoo. His father, Dr. Kurt Benirschke, created and directed CRES (Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species) in 1972, and later became President and Chairman of the Board of the Zoological Society.
Rolf’s involvement with endangered species at the San Diego Zoo began as a volunteer at CRES during the summers while he was in college. In 1978, while kicking for the San Diego Chargers, he create
d ‘Kicks for Critters.’ The program raised over $1.5 million for the Zoo by collecting donations for every kick he made during games.
He also created ‘Cans for Critters,’ a school program embraced by over 100 San Diego schools during his playing days. This program taught lessons about endangered species and the importance of conservation and recycling.
Rolf was recently elected to serve as a Trustee on the San Diego Zoological Society Board, following in his father’s footsteps.
The Rolf Benirschke Legacy Foundation was established in 2000 as a way for Rolf to continue to make a difference in the community by connecting people and philanthropic organizations through golf. Rolf wanted to ‘move the needle’ in San Diego-based charities and raise funds to make a positive difference.
In 2001, The Legacy Golf Invitational was founded by Rolf and a group of close friends. This special group
shared a vision to create an event that brought together colleagues and community leaders, a passion for golf, a desire to build enduring relationships based on trust and respect, and t
he aspiration of making a difference in the community of San Diego. The focus of the event is to combine the building
of relationship with raising money for selected charitable causes. Since inception, The Legacy has raised over $5.4 million for San Diego charities.
Rolf has been a longtime supporter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America after receiving support during the early days of his illness. He has been an outspoken advocate for the organization, an inspiration for those battling Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and continues to raise public awareness of these difficult illnesses. The CCFA created The Rolf Benirschke Award Research Award that annually recognizes new IBD scientists, as well as the Rolf Benirschke Legacy Award that honors individuals who have made a significant difference in the fight against IBD.
Rolf was humbled to be asked to Chair the Billy Graham Mission when it came to San Diego in 2003. He was responsible for helping to bring together various churches and their leaders in the area and fill the San Diego Stadium for the four nights of evangelism. The impact of that event is still being felt in the community many years later.