Former college football player and New York City firefighter “Coach” Rich Carroll considered staying fit part of his job description. Exercise came easy to him, and he often rose early in the morning to squeeze in a routine, occasionally interrupted by an alarm. In these instances, he would get “a life-or-death, high-intensity workout.” This was simply part of his life and Carroll relished it, along with his family and his semiprofessional football career.
Carroll believes that “truly successful people have the ability, not only to inspire themselves to reach beyond their potential, but to inspire others to reach beyond their potential as well.” On March 11, 2002, his workout was interrupted by a call that would permanently alter the course of his life, giving him the chance to test his own belief system about the healing power of inspiration.
Fighting Flames, Fighting for Life
Carroll shares the events of that day in his own words: “My firehouse Engine 317 Ladder 165 was first due, and I was assigned the nozzle. When we arrived, we were informed that there was fire in the basement. Right away I knew we had to get in and knock the fire down. The only way to accomplish that would be by fighting through the intense heat and smoke. Since I was the nozzle man, this was my responsibility.
“I was directed through the smoke-filled kitchen to the basement door. I could feel the intense heat through the door. I slid one foot over the threshold to feel for the first step, and then, regripping the nozzle, started down the steps as fast as I could. As I reached the third step, I felt the whole stairway shift. Flames shot up through the steps, which began collapsing beneath me. I quickly spun, using the hose line as leverage, and grabbed the kitchen floor. As the stairs collapsed and oxygen hit the fire below, it engulfed me; my arms hung onto a piece of the kitchen wall and the rest of my body and legs dangled, now fully engulfed in flames. When I was finally taken to safety, I discovered that the collapse had bent my leg in the wrong direction, completely severing the ligaments in my knee. Although I was glad to be alive, I was left with multiple surgeries and permanent nerve damage in my knee.”
Carroll says his lowest moment came when, shortly after his final knee surgery, he was notified that he was no longer fit to be an active firefighter. “I was 35 years old and left without direction in my life,” he says. “No longer able to do what I loved, I slipped into a state of depression, and my body became a direct reflection of the state I was in.” Carroll gained 45 pounds and felt like his life was spiraling. “As I had always been very athletic, it didn’t take long for me to realize that my health and general conditioning were slowly creeping out of my control. As an avid weightlifter and football player, I knew I needed some advice and direction to jump-start me and my lifestyle.”
Carroll mustered up his inner strength and sought out fitness advice from his college strength coach, “Dr. Ken” Leistner, who directed him to IDEA member Frank Savino, owner of Gridiron Inc. High-Intensity Training in Flushing, New York. “Frank opened his doors to me, introduced me to IDEA, motivated me and educated me on the fitness business.”
It wasn’t until he started volunteering at his former high school that Carroll felt his life was saved. “I started training all those kids, and before you knew it, I was training adults as well. I became inspired and lost a few pounds. I now weigh less than I did when I graduated from high school. Never did I think that anything other than running into burning buildings would give me fire—but inspiring others has done that. There is nothing greater than giving a speech to a team that generates a loud roar as it enters the field of battle, or taking a so-so athlete who’s highly committed and seeing his efforts in the weight room pay off for him as a player. Now, that’s great stuff!”
People Before Profit
Carroll believes that all the positive energy he has invested in his life and business has paid off in numerous ways. He is a professional speaker on topics such as leadership and life strategies and was inducted into the C.W. Post Football Hall of Fame last year. He is also the head varsity football coach at Herricks High School in New Hyde Park, New York, and his personal training business, H.I.T.S. (High Intensity Training Systems, www.coachrichcarroll.com), is thriving. “My philosophy is to put people before profit,” Carroll says. “My training business gives me the opportunity to help people change their belief systems and to educate them in how to attain their goals through proper fitness. My technique as a trainer is to systematically and safely guide clients to their self-imposed limits and beyond. I constantly tell them to let their bodies be a direct reflection of a healthy lifestyle. Steady pace wins the race.”
Carroll urges other personal fitness trainers to focus more on relationships than knowledge. “However, that doesn’t relieve any of us from our responsibility to continually learn and educate our clients,” he says. Although his days of running into burning buildings to save lives are over, Carroll says he is now saving lives through inspiring others to fitness. “I look forward to both the future inspiration I will receive and the inspiration I can offer others.”
Joy Keller is a senior editor of IDEA Fitness Journal.
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