Former placekicker for the San Diego Chargers, Rolf Benirschke was originally diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 1978 at the beginning of his second season in the NFL. He struggled with his disease; in constant pain and losing weight, but continued to play until finally collapsing on a team flight home from a game in the middle of his third season. Rolf would require emergency surgery to remove part of his large intestine, but complications necessitated a second surgery six days later that left him with an ileostomy, 65 pounds below his playing weight, and fighting to survive. He would spend almost six weeks in the intensive care unit before going home believing his playing days were over.
Remarkably, Rolf returned to the Chargers the next season and played for seven more years, four while wearing an ostomy pouch. He would need two more surgeries to remove the rest of his colon and then to have a Kock pouch procedure. It was only then did he discover that he had not been suffering from Crohn’s Disease rather ulcerative colitis. Grateful to be alive and so thankful to have been given the opportunity to play again, Rolf began sharing his story publicly, serving as a source of inspiration for patients nationwide and directing people to the Foundation for information and support.
In 1981, Rolf became the founder of the Foundation's Sports Council, a group of athletes and sports organizations dedicated to raising awareness of IBD. He served as chairman of the Council, and helped set up the Foundation's Celebrity Club, chaired by Mary Ann Mobley and Gary Collins.
Rolf has helped raise critical funds for research, education, advocacy, and support, and was honored with the Modell Award for Business Leadership in 2015 to recognize his contributions to the community. Through the Rolf Benirschke Legacy Foundation Invitational, Rolf has helped raise over $1.6 million for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation, and continues to donate $100,000 annually to support the Foundation's ongoing research and programs, like Camp Oasis. In addition to co-founding the Foundation's San Diego chapter, Rolf has played a vital role in all local fundraising events, has an annual award in his name, and continues to serve as a high impact ambassador for the Foundation.