Mizuno Racing Team Member Patrick Rizzo Joins the Cast of Mizuno Running Bloggers
by Patrick Rizzo on September 6, 2012
Some of you have probably noticed that I haven't written a blog in a while...okay, a LONG while! Well after much hassling from friends and family, I am back at the keyboard! What do I have to lose? I've already joined Twitter this month after saying I would never do that! (By the way, if you aren't already, follow me using @runPRizzo)
So much has happened since the last time I blogged. I've gotten a few new PRs to my name, I've worn my first USA jersey in the Pan-Am games, and I've joined up with a new training group, Hudson Training Systems. The past year has been quite a journey for me. But with this being the 15th anniversary of my running, I would rather use this blog to give some background on how I got into this wonderful sport.
I've heard so many stories about other athletes who say they've always dreamed of being the athlete they now are. My journey isn't nearly that romantic. My passion for running came more out of the biggest tragedy of my personal life and became one of the greatest saving graces I've found FOR my life since.
I first started running in junior high...if you'd call it running. I wouldn't now. It was more of a disciplinary thing for me. I was only running cross-country because it would keep me from jumping any more weight classes than I needed to each wrestling season. I began wrestling when I was in second grade at a whopping 35 pounds and fell in LOVE! It was Olympic wrestling that held my dreams. I wanted to be the next Dan Gable, John Smith, or Tom Brands.
Then on May 5, 1999, I woke up with really clogged ears. For the next two years, I couldn't hear much of anything, a couple pitches here and there, but no real sound. From the time I was 15 until I was 17, I was totally deaf, an allergic reaction to metal poisoning from my braces.
I was crushed. I was just coming off of a 21-1 wrestling season and now I couldn't stand straight up without feeling like the room was tilting. My equilibrium was destroyed, bringing my wrestling future with it.
The next year, I discovered a new channel for my anger...RUNNING! My coach convinced me (rather forcefully) to try winter running, a foreign concept to me at the time. Running in the off-season before this was more like punishment than training. And to do so in the winter in the Midwest? No thanks!
I looked up to my high school coach though and trusted his direction for me to do winter running. We had the best group of really committed jackasses that could be assembled. We were all committed enough to go out in the Illinois winter, facing homicidal drivers, brutal elements, terrible footing, and sacrificing precious N64 time. Jackasses because we would have daily snowball fights, puddle wars, ice slide competitions, or other horsing around that more serious guys probably wouldn't risk doing.
That track season, I ran almost a minute best over 2 miles and ran 9:44 indoors. Then came the second phase of metal allergy, joint swellings. I woke up one morning and my hip was so swollen I couldn't walk. I couldn't even get pants on! We went to the doctor for x-rays and blood work. My inflammation levels resembled rheumatoid arthritis. Worse yet, now I couldn't even run.
Four days later, it was like nothing ever happened. I was back to running, was back to pain free, no swelling, no problems! This went on for the remainder of my two years with braces as well. It would be college before I trained a full month without issues of inflammation in my hip, knuckles, or shoulders at seemingly random intervals. I'd been tested for lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, lymes disease, and treated with chemotherapy to try to recover and remiss whatever was attacking my body. Nothing helped.
During those tough years, I went on to develop a great support system through the runners on my team. They gave me a healthy amount of crap, (hey, I couldn't hear it anyway) but I have a thick enough skin to roll with it. I didn't need to be able to hear anything to be good at running. And balance...well I really don't have any abrupt changes in direction when running. The only thing that got a bit frustrating for my coach and I was when we did fartleks on the whistle interval. Even 13 years later, I STILL can't hear a whistle.
My senior year of high school, finally my braces came off and as part of the process, I got my hearing back, though only in my right ear. The first couple years, I was really self-conscious about my new “disability.” I wouldn't tell people that I couldn't hear; and I WOULDN'T wear my hearing aid (full disclosure that I still hate wearing it and rarely do).
Waking up deaf was probably the most mentally and emotionally difficult thing I have ever had to endure in my life. In the process though, I was drawn to this magnificent sport of running. Through running, I have now run on 4 continents; I have met countless people who have lent me their hearts, souls, and inspirations. Only through my athletic success have I become comfortable in my body, as it is each day, not as I wish it was or as it once was. I don't think of myself as “disabled” in any way (except missing pitches, such as fire alarms and whistles). I think of myself as having endured the worst life has thrown at me.
Running? That's a simple task that brings abundant joy to my life each day I get to experience it. It may not have been my first passion in sport, but it is what has brought so much passion into my life. In the last 15 years, I have gotten to meet Olympic wrestlers, runners, and coaches. Each has a unique story about how they got started in their sport. I may not be an Olympian, but this is how running became my passion for the greater part of the past 15 years. I owe a lot of thanks to my former sponsors for getting me started on a professional career and Mizuno for their continued support for the years since. Without that support, who knows where I'd be, but I wouldn't have the most positive influence on my life and character without you guys. Here's to another 15, 30, and lifetime of running!
By the way, thank you to Jim Ryun for being my inspiration as a fellow “deaf runner.” That is the kind of positive influence I can only aspire to be for even just one person in the course of my lifetime.