After going deaf from an undiagnosed allergic reaction to braces as a teenager, Patrick Rizzo quit wrestling, a sport he’d participated in since the second grade. But instead of feeling sorry for himself, he found another passion.
Even though he eventually regained partial hearing, he still couldn’t wrestle because of equilibrium issues. So he started running.
Since then, Rizzo, now 34, has competed in marathons including three Olympic Trials marathons.
Now he’s training to qualify for a fourth Olympic Trials in 2020. His best qualifying time is 2 hours, 13 minutes, 42 seconds, which he ran at the 2012 Olympic Trials.
Rizzo said he wouldn’t consider himself top talent, but he attributes his high-qualifying race times to his work ethic.
“Some people have talent where they can wake up in the morning and run a 4-minute mile,” he said, adding that he’s only had one running injury in 20 years. “I’m the kind of person that can just train year-round really hard and my body can sustain a really heavy workload.”
When he’s not running, Rizzo works as a senior help desk hero at fusesport, an Australian-based software developer for sport organizations and events with additional offices in Washington, D.C. and Colorado Springs.
Rizzo has worked at fusesport for nearly two years assisting clients with non-technical issues on websites. He also is on the board of directors for the Colfax Marathon, Denver’s only annual marathon.
Rizzo spoke with the Business Journal about his career as an athlete and his insights on the racing industry.
How did you get into running?
Basically I looked at, ‘What can I do if I can never hear again?’ I decided I’d like to see if I could make the most of myself as a runner. One of my big heroes in life is Jim Ryun. Jim Ryun was an Olympian in 1968 and 1972 and a former world record holder in the mile. Jim is also mostly deaf, and he is somebody I looked up to.
He really [taught me], ‘Don’t [have] a victim mentality because you’re missing something.’ Look at what you can do, look at what you can contribute and find a way to be your best whatever that is. I come from a big Italian family; nobody’s ever let me feel sorry for myself. They all still give me [grief] for everything I do and every one of my shortcomings and that’s perfect. It’s really what keeps you humble and keeps you knowing that you’re still you, so shut up and keep working.
What do you like about Colorado Springs?
My wife and I are hiking with a 1-month old every weekend and it’s the lifestyle we love. The culture here is very friendly and open, specifically at Epicentral [Coworking], it’s nice because everybody’s really social. You can say, ‘Hey we’re looking for a little help on this,’ and you might have 20 people in the office that might specialize in that.
It’s [also] nice to see downtown coming back to life for the first time in a generation. … I think it’s a real testament to what the city has done, what the downtown is today. Military contractors and the military itself make up the bulk of our economy here, but you still have so many different sectors. Tech is finally expanding very rapidly, especially with the [National Cybersecurity Center] here, so I think the types of jobs are more sustainable, long-term vision jobs.
How did you become involved with fusesport?
This was a first step out into the real business world … I want to stay in the athletic realm in some way, but retail was obviously limited as to what the growth potential is. I started here just part time, then in January of this year we signed Special Olympics International and I was brought on full time. [fusesport] opened this office just a handful of years ago, and this was the expansion into the North American market. We’re going after national governing bodies, and being in Colorado Springs is a very natural fit. We actually found a lot of different markets we wanted to be in just through being here. Sometimes you don’t even know your own best fit; it falls upon you and that’s kind of what happened with us. We’re doing quite a bit of development.
What advice would you give to working athletes?
Make sure you always have a resumé. You are one injury away from being retired. In Olympic sports specifically, we don’t have a retirement system, so you see 30-year-olds entering the workforce with absolutely no work experience. That’s a very difficult thing if you’re not going to work for a sporting company. You can only run physically so many hours in the day.
I always had a job my entire running career … and too many people I see ruin their future by thinking, ‘I have to fully commit to this 100 percent, 24 hours a day,’ and they actually don’t. You may think that USA Track & Field loves you — they only love you while you’re successful.