Nothing is impossible. That is the core message in today's interview with one of the top Amateur Natural Bodybuilders in the USA. Richard Herskovitz is an outstanding athlete who lifts heavy and plays tennis, despite his above the knee amputation in his right leg. Furthermore, he is on a mission to inspire those who are facing physical challenges and disabilities. He wants them to believe that everything is possible if they try hard enough. And he is the living example to prove that is true.
I am achieving my personal goals, but I have not yet fulfilled my mission. I want to inspire people who face physical obstacles to believe that nothing is impossible!
Richard was able to achieve an excellent level of fitness and mobility. His motivation helped him achieve his personal goals, a positive self-image, and increased self-esteem. Despite the many surgeries and the rehabilitation he had to go through, today he still trains and is able to play tennis with his son. Not only that, but he is also currently preparing to play in the Standing Adapted Tennis international tournament for people with disabilities who can stand. Without further ado, let’s find out more from Richard himself!
Hello, Richard! Thank you for giving us this opportunity to get to know you better. You are an experienced athlete and you’ve been participating in a lot of bodybuilding competitions throughout the years. But in your own words, please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who is Richard Herskovitz?
I am a happily married (31 years) father of 3, normal person. I just happen to have brushed death 2 times (the last time was a month ago, where for 4 days they were just waiting for me to die). I once again cheated death, hopefully because of my love of training and my physical conditioning. I am nobody special. I do what I want when I want. It is just sometimes I have to do things differently because I have an above knee amputation of my right leg.
You just mentioned you had another brush with death. Would you like to share with us what happened?
About 2 months ago I developed an infection in my leg which required hospitalization. I started having trouble breathing. The infection had spread to my lungs and I developed pneumonia. I could not breath on my own and I was put on a breathing machine. The doctors could not get oxygen through my body and my blood pressure was dropping. For 4 days the doctors tried to prepare my family for my death. I was in a coma and could not breath. I eventually rallied and made a full recovery.
You are a very brave and determined person. Where does your courage come from?
I don’t know if I would call it courage. It is more that I am too stubborn to pack it in.
Do you remember your first competition? Please tell us a little bit about what made you compete for the first time and how was that experience for you.
I did a few shows when I was in my mid 30s, but I just did them because my friends were doing them. In my mind, my first show was in April 2007. It was just a few months after I had my first leg amputation. That was a below the knee amputation.
What about when you first started training? Tell us a little bit about what motivated you to start strength training.
I started training when I was in college. During my younger years I was a competitive tennis player. I had a few scholarships to colleges, but they were not full scholarships and the schools were too expensive, so I ended up at my state school, The University of Maryland. I was not playing tennis and I did not want to sit around doing nothing physical. So I started training at a Nautilus club. From there I started free weight training. I have been weight training since my early 20s. I have been an athlete my entire life. I just kind of fell into weight training.
You decided to retire from bodybuilding competitions in 2000. What made you take that decision?
I was not having fun. So I stopped competing, but I did not stop training.
In 2005 you contracted a disease called Necrotizing Fasciitis, commonly known as "flesh-eating bacteria". This, unfortunately, caused a lot of damage to your right leg and you had to have it amputated. How tough was it to make this decision?
In my mind it was an easy decision. I had a leg that was dead and I felt that my quality of life would be better cutting it off and wearing a prosthetic leg. The hardest part of my decision was asking my family how they felt. It was my leg, but I needed my family’s support. It took a few weeks for them to agree with my decision. Once they did I had to find a doctor who agreed that my real leg would never work again and that I would be better off with a prosthetic leg.
How did you cope physically and emotionally with the aftermath?
I was ok with my decision to amputate. All I wanted was to be able to walk again. It takes months for the residual to become stable enough to start the process of fitting and building a prosthetic leg. Those months seemed to last forever. I hate being on crutches. I felt disabled walking with crutches. All I wanted was to be able to walk on my own.
You’ve returned on the stage of bodybuilding competitions after what you’ve been through. When did you decide to return and more importantly, what motivated you to return?
Before my amputation, I had set some goals for myself. One was to get on stage again as a bodybuilder. In May of 2007, I achieved that goal. I took home fifth place in Baltimore's Silver Cup Bodybuilding competition. Doing that show inspired me to keep training in order to improve my physique, and to become, once again, a top level bodybuilder, one who is confident enough to compete with any able-bodied person.
How was your first competition experience after you’ve returned?
My original motivation to compete again was purely self-serving. I needed to raise my self-esteem. I wanted to be able to look at myself in the mirror and focus not on what I had lost, but on what I still had. I wanted my children to see me not as a father who had lost a leg, but as a father who could rise above a tragic situation and continue to move forward.
When I stepped on stage for the first time after my original amputation, I could not believe the reaction of the crowd and of my fellow competitors. I realized for the first time that what I had achieved was not just about me, but something larger. People came up to me to say that they admired my courage, and that I was an inspiration. Their support motivated me to continue my quest to become a truly competitive bodybuilder.
Tell us a little bit about your recovery following your surgeries and amputation. What did your rehabilitation consist of?
I usually start off with 5 minutes of cardio and then I add a minute a day. When I reach 30 minutes I will then go back into the gym to start weight training. The first few weeks it is just light weights. I’m just trying to get back into it, and as I start to feel better and stronger then I will increase my weights.
When did you start training again and how did you approach your first workouts after the ordeal?
My number one goal is not to hurt myself. I workout by myself, so I do not need to impress anybody with the amount of weights that I use. I just want to feel the motion again with my prosthetic leg on. My balance is off because of my leg, so I need to adjust my movements to accommodate my leg loss. That is why I start light and work smart.
What about your diet and supplementation? How is it different now compared to your pre-surgery nutrition?
I try to eat clean so my diet and supplements do not really change. Now I just eat fewer calories.
Please share with us how a workout day looks like for you now.
I wake up at 5 am every morning. Get dressed and put my leg on. Go downstairs and have my pre-workout meal (1/2 cup dry oatmeal, 1/3 cup Blueberries and 2 scoops of protein powder). I add hot water and I have a meal. I have a full gym in my basement, so I go down and do about 40 minutes of weights and then 25 minutes of cardio. After that I shower and go about my day.
How did you start making your basement into your own personal gym?
I found a local company that was making gym quality free weight equipment for residential use. My first piece was a Power Rack with a lat machine in the front and a Smith Machine in the back. That along with an adjustable bench made working out a home possible. I then started adding equipment when I could afford it. After 31 years I have a full gym and a full cardio room. I even have a treadmill for my dogs.
You have learnt to live with a disability that would discourage most from working out. How did you get past it and decided to make the most out of your fitness?
Early on after my first amputation I told myself that my leg is not going to grow back and to get on with my new life. I also told myself that I can do anything that I want to do, so I figured out how to work out with my new body.
You are the father of 3 beautiful children who are inspired by your courage and ability to overcome tragedy. Are they interested in sports or weightlifting too?
My son plays tennis and my daughters and wife have no desire to exercise.
You and your son seem to love Tennis very much. What makes this sport particularly important for you?
I wanted something that I could do with my son. Something for just the two of us. Matt has been playing for years and he is a very good player. I knew that I would have to up my game to keep up with him. Now we are just about equal on the court.
You are considered one of the top Amateur Natural Bodybuilders in the country. Congratulations for this achievement! Given your years of experience in competitions, what piece of advice would you like to share with younger athletes who are interested in competing?
Results take time and effort. There is no magic pill. Eat clean and train hard and you will find that NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE!
Speaking of years of experience, many people feel that they are too old to work out after the age of 50. You are beyond 50 and still work out! What would you like to say to those who are discouraged by their age?
I would tell them to get their butts off the sofa and start doing something positive for their body.
What keeps you motivated to continue your health and fitness journey despite everything else?
I enjoy doing what I am doing. There is no reason to stop.
Would you like to share some of your future plans with us? What are you future goals and ambitions?
I have started playing tennis again. In two weeks I am playing in an international tournament for people with disabilities who can stand. It is called Standing Adapted Tennis (TAP Tennis). I played tennis when I was younger and I did well. My son plays tennis and I wanted to do something that we could do together. I have reached the point where I can give him a run for his money. It’s great spending quality time together.
Congratulations for your new achievements in Tennis! We wish you good luck in the international tournament. How are you preparing for it?
I started by hitting thousands of balls using the ball machine and then I found a training partner. We usually play 3-4 times a week. I also play a lot with my son, Matt.
Tennis is definitely different than weightlifting. You must've encountered new challenges when you started playing again. How was your first Tennis match since you've decided to play again?
My strokes came back quickly. My biggest problem was moving around the court. My everyday prosthetic leg would not work for playing tennis. My prosthetist had to build a new prosthetic leg for tennis. It is so cool. I also use the new leg for my workouts. I can once again do deadlifts!
You've recently gave us a very positive review on Facebook. Thank you! Could you tell us more about your new gloves and what do you like about them?
My new gloves are very lightweight with a silicone palm. They are easy to put on and come with wrist wraps. They are also ½ fingers which I really like. When they are on I get a great feel of the bar and an amazing grip.
Please tell us what other gym gear do you use.
I also use elbow compression sleeves.
What other Mava Gear do you own?
The gloves are the only piece of Mava Gear that I own. I might be interested in elbow and knee sleeves, but I would have to save up some money.
Would you recommend your Mava Gear to our readers?
Finally, we’d like to say that you a very inspiring person with a very uplifting message to share. What uplifting message or words of wisdom would you like to say to our readers?
I would like to say that NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE!! You can do what you want, sometimes you just have to go about it differently. Don’t use your disability as an excuse.
Despite all the physical obstacles in his path, Richard was able to not only overcome them, but exceed everyone’s expectations about what a person with a physical disability is able to achieve. He inspired many people to set goals they thought to be impossible. He proved to them that nothing is impossible, even if you have to adjust your methods for reaching your goals. So, next time you are doubting yourself, just remember Richard’s story and believe that NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE!