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Rich Again In Body And Spirit. RIP Ritchie.

March 29, 2024 3 min read 14 Comments

Rich Again In Body And Spirit. RIP Ritchie.

Rich Rizzo. He passed at 87 because of cancer a year after he came back to life from a broken heart. His smile and personality lit up the room.

 

This is the story Geezer Jock did on Rich at the 2023 USATF Masters Outdoors Championships after winning the gold medal in the 400. You will read it and get the idea why he will be missed. Ritchie ranked No. 2 in the U.S. in the 400 in 2023 for Men 85-89.

By Ray Glier

When his wife, Linda, died in the spring of 2015, Rich Rizzo closed the blinds, dimmed the lights, and shut the door on his house in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

For six, almost seven years.

He was a hermit to some neighbors and he looked the part. He grew a long beard and let his hair grow. Seldom, he said, did he venture out.

There was a hole in his heart not even track & field could fill and he had been a runner for 60+ years.

Rizzo, 86, said his daughters and track buddies came over and pleaded with him “to snap out of it.” One day, mourning became morning and he snapped out of it…with the help of a track meet.

He shaved the beard and his head and entered a meet October 23, 2022, the Martin County Senior Games at Jensen Beach High School.

Rich won the 50, 100, 200 without a lot of training. He hadn’t forgotten how to run and how to stride and how to compete. He grew up in The Bronx, N.Y., and those habits are reflexive.

“I was all clean cut, I shaved, and I was back,” Rizzo said.

Last week at the USATF Masters Outdoor Championships in Greensboro, Rizzo was really back. He won gold in the 400 (1:39.35) and finished fourth in the 200 (42.28) in Men’s 85-89.

According to www.mastersrankings.com, Rizzo is ranked No. 1 in the U.S. for the 400 M85-89.

“Give me a year and I’ll run a 1:33,” he said.

Rizzo has started training with Ed Gonera, who was part of a stunning M40 4x400 at the 2001 Penn Relays. It is still a world record at 3:20.83 set with Sal Allah, Kevin Morning, and Ray Blackwell. Gonera was 48 years old.

This was on top of the training he received for 40 years from the legendary Suffolk County (Longwood H.S.) Joe Reilly, one of the the winningest high school track coaches in New York.

You should see the fitness level of Rizzo now, but it is nothing compared to when he was 55 years old. Rich was part of a world record mile relay (M55-59) for the New York Pioneer Track Club at the national championships. When he was 51, in 1988, Rizzo set a world record for the age group in the 300 intermediate hurdles (43.16).

In his 70s, Rizzo was routinely ranked in the top 5 in the U.S. in the 200 and 400.

Then his wife died and Rizzo disappeared from the national rankings…and life.

Plainly speaking, loneliness and heartbreak kills too many older adults. Some are so devoted to their spouses and do not recover easily. There is a nearly 30 percent risk of heart disease and 32 percent more risk of stroke.

A “reckoning” is too harsh. Maybe Rich and others like him reconcile and realize they have more to give society. Over and over in the 20 months of writing Geezer Jock, widows and widowers have come across my path with stories about how athletics and exercise and family/friends have saved them from the despair of loneliness.

So now Rizzo goes to the body shop, lifts weights regularly, and saves himself. He flexes. A muscle bulges on his upper right arm.

“Do I look like I am going to stop any time soon?”, he says. The gleaming white teeth of a smile put an exclamation point on his renewal.


14 Responses

Adele Rizzo
Adele Rizzo

April 02, 2024

Wow I would like to thank you all on your comments about Dad he truly touched so many lives and had so many friends in the track world to say I am proud of my Dad is an understatement Thank you all -Adele

Phil Shipp
Phil Shipp

March 31, 2024

Last year Rich approach Roger Vergin and me about joining him in the M85-89 4×400 relay. I warned him that the 400 was not a good event for me even if it was part of the Decathlon. But he insisted and the team won the event setting a new American record. So sorry to hear of his passing, but proud to have helped him achieve one of his track and field goals.

Susan KrogstadHill
Susan KrogstadHill

August 06, 2023

So glad to reconnect with you at the airport in Greensboro. Hope to see you again.

Shaun Dietz
Shaun Dietz

August 02, 2023

Welcome back Sir Rich.. from one Bronx man to the next! My condolences!

Phil Shipp
Phil Shipp

August 01, 2023

It was a pleasure meeting and running with you in Greensboro. I’ve been working to improve my 400. Went 2:00 this morning

Cornelius Hobson
Cornelius Hobson

August 01, 2023

Rich has been around the track all my life, and I’m 50. He never hesitates to praise others for their accolades, no matter how many moons ago they happened lol. I’m proud to consider him a friend and an inspiration. Because of him I am strongly considering dusting off my track shoes. Love this guy!

Wayne Fisher
Wayne Fisher

August 01, 2023

What a wonderful and inspiring story. Looking forward to following Rick as he continues to pursue records in track and field.

Willie Spruill
Willie Spruill

July 31, 2023

RICH it is an honor to have met you in NY, Georgia and Greensboro. Keep on keeping on. MUCH LOVE ❤️!

Christel Donley
Christel Donley

July 30, 2023

Rich, so happy you " found " me. Yes, I lost Jerry only 5 Months ago ,and the pain is always there.
Our love for the sport kept me going, I promised Jerry to stay with it, and be with friends. That promise was for both of us.
All good wishes, mainly health coming your way!
Christel

Stephen Gould
Stephen Gould

July 30, 2023

I am proud to count The Rizz as a friend and I am delighted with his recent success at Nationals – and I know him well enough to know that he will not be satisfied with just staying where he is. Even at 87 his times will get better.

Noreen stephani
Noreen stephani

July 30, 2023

Knew Richie for many years.We are do proud of him. He is a great man and a lot of fun. Congrats Richie

Mike Lavigna
Mike Lavigna

July 30, 2023

Sometimes just reading your weekly offerings is all the activity I can muster. It always give me so much more than I put out. Thanks for being there ray, mike!

DeEtte Sauer
DeEtte Sauer

July 30, 2023

Love this story. I am facing loss and am encouraged that my sport can take me through.

Allan Tissenbaum
Allan Tissenbaum

July 30, 2023

Great to see Rich back on the track

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