When Aerosmith sang “Dream until your dream comes true,” they might as well have been singing about Paul Risso. Risso had to wait forty years for his ultimate dream to come true, but nevertheless it did. A promising baseball pitcher drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates while he attended the College of San Mateo, a community college, Risso had his dream crushed. In 1973, at the age of 20, he injured his shoulder after pitching a number of games over a two-day period. Though not complete games, the fourth outing proved to be the final blow that would remove him from the mound for over thirty years. As Risso described it to his trainer at the time, “Man, it feels like I have an icepick stuck in my shoulder.”
Risso loved playing baseball from a very young age. His father, a minor league pitcher for the New York Giants organization in the late 1940s, gave him his first glove on his sixth birthday. He became an avid ballplayer during his youth and loved the game. A product of the fifties, Risso recalls that it appeared everyone played baseball. “You go down to the school grounds or wherever everybody gets together, you'd have games, gosh, all the time,” Risso reflected. He was able to try-out and make little league teams. His father guided him to play second-base until he was twelve. It was not until reaching that age that he was permitted to pitch. Risso believes his father was protecting him from premature pitching injuries, hence the second base position. Certainly Risso's father was aware of the pitching injuries after an elbow injury ended his career.
Risso handled his setback with realism. He accepted the fact that his shoulder was injured and he would never pitch again. In spite of this realization, he always stayed very active. His job working for a water company would provide ample opportunities to work-out. The use of a jackhammer and shovel was a daily part of his street crew regimen for twenty years prior to becoming a manager. In addition, he participated in Kenpo Karate and actively worked around his home doing gardening and maintenance. He notes, “I could never really sit still.”
Decades later, about two years apart, Risso had a recurring dream involving baseball and his dad. In the dream, Risso's father was watching his son pitch, as he routinely did when he was alive. In the dream, he encouraged his son by telling him “ I think you still have something left.” This was referring to his pitching ability. Risso didn't heed the dreams until Father's Day 2006. Risso found out about a Men's Senior Baseball League in Albuquerque, New Mexico that was looking for a pitcher. He talked to the manager and arranged to pitch on the sidelines. He had not tested his arm until that day. Risso threw on the sidelines for about five minutes. “The manager said, ' You want the job? You got it.' And I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'Okay, you're starting today.' "
Risso acknowledges that he did OK in his first outing in the 25 year-old+ league. ”I wasn't perfect or anything, by any means, but I was throwing pretty hard. So it was encouraging for me to go out there and start knocking some of that rust off, but like anything, you're away from a sport for 30-some-odd years, at that point and it takes awhile.” It took a few years for Risso to get his arm back to form, and he did it with a positive mental attitude and a relentless determination to succeed. To this day, he has no idea how his pitching arm healed. After he injured his arm in college, he was not able to reach home plate. Four decades later, he is competing and inspiring others to reach their dreams.
He could have been satisfied with the ability to pitch to home plate and compete with much younger opponents, but Risso did not construct a ceiling over his dream. Instead, he kept challenging himself to improve and perhaps fulfill a dream that had been squelched forty years ago. At the age of 55, Risso tried out for the Texarkana Gunslingers, which was affiliated with the Continental Baseball League. Though drafted and placed on reserve, Risso was never called into action. Two years later, he tried out for the Alpine Cowboys, which was also a member of the Continental Baseball League. Again, he was drafted and, with about a month remaining in the season, waited for the call to pitch in a game. Unfortunately the league folded early and once again his dream was put on hold. Many would have quit, but Risso treated this setback with the same attitude that helped him get through his initial injury. Risso reflects, " So another obstacle, but you know, what do you do? You just persist.”
Persist he did, and NBC's Today Show covered his May 24th, 2013 tryout with the St. Paul Saints, located in Saint Paul Minnesota. Though he was not to make the cut, he did receive positive accolades from the manager and players. This led to the Raton Osos of the Pecos league, an independent professional league club located in Raton New Mexico, giving him a one-inning contract. On July 17, 2013, his dream was actualized and Risso was given the chance to pitch. The score was tied at one-one when Risso took the mound in the 6th inning. The first batter hit a flare single, but with the help of his teammates, the next three batters were retired. Risso describes the experience, “It was pretty emotional after I finished. The guys I played with were unbelievably supportive. The other team came over after the game to talk and congratulated me. What a great group of gracious athletes.” Risso acknowledges that the only thing that could have stopped him from achieving his dream is his wife. Fortunately, his wife Aileen is his greatest fan and encouraged him throughout his miraculous comeback.
Slowing down and giving up is obviously not in Risso's DNA. He encourages others to continue to stay active and vary their exercise program in order to keep things interesting. Risso likes HIIT or High-Intensity Interval Training as a means to stay fit. This type of training consists of short rapid bursts of exertion, which challenges the cardiovascular system to respond. In addition, he incorporates the following training regimen during the off season:
Monday-during lunch 15 minutes of throwing lightly to get the blood flowing in my arm and keep it loose. After work, he incorporates Shaun T's Insanity Workout.
Tuesday-light throws at lunch, Bowflex routine in the evening
Wednesday – P90X core routine
Thursday- lunch throw at 80% velocity, evening a different Insanity Workout from Monday
Friday – P90 X Yoga
Saturday – yard and home maintenance
3-5 times a week-15 minutes of myofascial roller massage and stretches for arms and torso.
Risso does not adhere to any strict diet but he does try to eat healthy. He supplements with a multivitamin, and adds extra vitamins C, D, E. He also consumes Co Q-10, fish oil, Glucosamine, and Chondroitin.
Though Risso's fast ball is much slower than his twenty-year-old arm generated, he acknowledges that he has improved his speed during his seven-year comeback. They did not have radar guns to determine velocity when Risso played in college. Today, he is able to generate a high 70 to80+-mile- an hour fastball and hopes to improve his velocity with time. He has also become a more well- rounded pitcher. “ I had one pitch basically back then, although I was developing a slider—but now, for me, its gotta be a combination of pitches, so I try not to favor any pitch. Certainly everybody knows, the basis of pitching is your fastball. The caveat for someone like me is to make sure you don't throw too many of them because it'll start getting hittable too quickly. So I throw four pitches basically,” Risso reflects.
National television exposure and pitching in a professional game has not capped Risso's drive to accomplish additional goals. He has his sights set on pitching in the 25+ year-old league until the age of seventy and throwing in the Men's Senior Baseball League World Series. He notes his greatest accomplishments were making his dad and wife proud, and raising five great sons, ages 14-35.