by Jason Dean
If anyone can relate to the pressure of growing up in the shadow of an imposing family figure, it’s Lou Ferrigno, Jr. Not only was his dad a world-class bodybuilder and Mr. Universe, he was the original Incredible Hulk of Marvel fame.
The younger Ferrigno’s determination to forge his own path dates back to his college days. “My goal was to go to USC and get a degree,” he says. From there, he was open. “I could have joined a fraternity, or something more social, but I decided that I wanted to achieve something that was very hard to achieve.” Did he ever. The Trojans’ football team won the National Championship in 2007, the same year that Ferrigno, Jr. made it onto the team as a walk-on linebacker.
“That’s the beauty of sports – it doesn’t matter what race you are, what religion you are, who you are – if you can take it, you can make it.”
Joining the Paradigm Treatment Team
In working with youth at Paradigm Treatment who have often times carried a lot on their shoulders in a variety of manifestations, Ferrigno, Jr. administers a caring, goal-driven approach that is supported by other staff who specialize in the more nuanced aspects of treatment. From there, he says, “It’s about helping them reach their full potential.”
After college, Ferrigno, Jr. fostered dual aspirations in entertainment and fitness, but the latter eventually won out. He created a profile on IDEA – “Facebook for fitness people,” he says – and considered working with younger people in some capacity, perhaps through Big Brother mentoring. He had coached some young athletes previously and enjoyed connecting with and motivating them.
One day, when he checked his IDEA profile, there was an email from Paradigm Treatment Co-founder Cole Rucker sitting in his inbox. “Divine intervention,” recalls Ferrigno, Jr. He responded immediately and was subsequently invited to visit the facility for an interview. Ferrigno, Jr.’s knowledge, experience, and motivation in fitness, health, and wellness made an impact, but his artistic side left an impression, too. Ferrigno, Jr. is a painter, working mainly in acrylics. “I think that stuck with Cole because it was a kind of dichotomy of fitness and art that he seemed to appreciate,” he says.
Ferrigno, Jr. joined Paradigm Treatment in March 2013 as its Fitness/ Exercise Therapist. His goal is to give each teen he encounters the tools to connect to his or her physical health by challenging, encouraging, and educating with proper technique. In leading one of the essential physical components of the Paradigm treatment model, Ferrigno Jr. is able to have a positive impact by helping break through limitations.
“I start out at a basic level and kind of motivate them from there to see who can compete – to find out what they can do as opposed to what they thought they could do,” he explains, adding, “A lot of them exceed their own expectations, which is really cool.”
Warm ups are essential at every stage of the fitness platform. Lou leads exercise fundamentals, coupled with education about their capabilities – setting a reasonable baseline of expectations – is next. “The goal is to really teach them about their bodies,” he says. And how does he deal with the teen who is too cool to break a sweat or has an aversion to physical exertion? “I rarely find anyone who shuts down. Some may try to test me early on and say they can’t do things. I just tell them, ‘Can’t is a choice,'” he says. “I come at them in a very sensitive but firm way to get them going. I give them a lot of options, but I want to see them safe and moving.”
Lots of connections are made, but Ferrigno, Jr. remembers witnessing a dramatic shift in one boy who was overweight. Having confronted his own weight issues in his youth, Ferrigno, Jr. was sympathetic. “He’d never worked out, only played video games and lived in this virtual world. But he was very responsive and very sweet, and we warmed up. So I showed him how to do a couple of exercises,” Ferrigno, Jr. recalls.
“He liked how his muscles were sore, so we worked out different muscle groups. I had to leave one week, and when I came back, I swear this kid had lost 4 or 5 pounds. I asked if he’d been dieting but he said no, he’d just been working out. When I turned around, and he’s spotting other kids in their exercises. And I thought: this is incredible. Not only has this kid found something he likes and is getting better at it, but he’s also spreading the message of good form and safety.”
In addition to drawing inspiration from the coaches who shaped his athletic development, Ferrigno, Jr. has benefited from having a solid foundation at home. Sharing his father’s name helped open some doors in entertainment, and Ferrigno, Jr. briefly pursued an acting career. He knows that some of the kids he encounters at Paradigm aren’t as fortunate in terms of the family engagement. “They may not have anyone that’s listening to them and making them feel good about themselves,” he says. “Through my art and my acting and the shows I’ve been on, like Teen Wolf or The Mindy Project, they really open up to me, which is nice, but I use those little moments to give them affirmative motivation.”
As for the most valuable lesson he learned while growing up, Ferrigno, Jr credits his mother, Carla, who told him “Louie, you’re only going to be a boy for so long, and you’re going to be a man one day, and all a man has in this life is his word. When you give someone that, you have to stick to it.” Sage words that fit nicely on his training room wall.