Ever hear of ball lightning? For some strange reason, a ball of an electric charge will skitter along the ground causing an awesome effect - as in anyone who sees it stands in awe. Scientists still argue whether they exist or not. Research shows that rarely, every now and then throughout history, people will witness a crazy globe of static roar through the place.Rich Fowler is a human lightning ball. Fowler is neither the Richard Fowler nabbed for murder last year in South Florida, nor is he the activist radio host - Richard Fowler. Our Rich is the announcer for HFP Racing which runs triathlons and related events in the Midwest. He also announces hockey games, Special Olympics, football games and anything else needing a big voice. “I’m a mic junkie,” he declares with that special vocal clarity all radio people seem to possess. He’ll do any gig. “Throw me a microphone and a free meal,” and he’s in. His official, self-given title is “Race Announcer and Cheerleader/Heckler.”He admits he was large “before the turn of the century.” Close to 300 pounds, coming out of a bad divorce, he was “in a bad place.” He entered his first triathlon."It was in a stone quarry, and I’m down there about to go, when I realized I had to swim. I couldn’t swim then. I changed to a duathlon.” So in his first race he ran, biked and ran again. And presently he learned to swim. A coach of his told him “Don’t worry, fat floats.” And it’s true!” he affirms. “Fat floats and I started to swim.”Within a few years he “caught the bug. And I got better and better and better.” Soon he was rated among the top 200 triathletes in his division in the nation. His division, by the way, was called Clydesdales - bigger gentlemen who “were like Clydesdales at the food table.""The hardest part of running the race is signing the form,” he observes. “You see, now you’re committed." Commitment doesn’t seem to be an issue with Fowler. He got his degree in Radio/TV Journalism and he uses those skills not just in announcing. Besides running, he edited for ‘Transition Times,’ a Tri-racing publication. Transition times are the times competitors use switching from swimming to the bike or from the bike to the run. Get it? At some point, doctors found a melanoma in Fowler’s leg. At that time he was a USA Hockey official. (Of course). Three operations later, it was clear “I couldn’t race anymore, so I just got behind the mic.” He wasn’t slowed, he moved on. You know, like ball lightning does. Not racing did not keep him from staying in the game, literally. Since the surgeries he has officiated over one hundred hockey games."I like hanging out with athletes. They’re all type-A’s, really driven and pretty fit.”You get the feeling he draws inspiration and encouragement from the athletes. There is a commonality that draws him to the triathletes."When I’m at a race and interacting with the racers, it’s like we are family. In every athlete’s story, everyone has a demon. It’s thrilling to share in them conquering their demons. And everyone is an expert in something, so it’s always fascinating."In training and racing there seems to be a holistic effect for triathletes, and the people that announce them. They swim, they bike, they run for many hours, sometimes entire days. But the attitude eschews competition."You’re not fighting anyone but yourself,” Fowler points out.'Family’ as a word comes up a lot when the folks who admire Fowler talk about the racing community.While preparing this article, a triathlete, Kree Killian, reached out to sing the praises of Rich Fowler. For her first ever race in 2015:"I drove from Maryland to Ohio alone to race that weekend. I knew two others who were doing the race I had met on Facebook, but had never met them face to face. When I got there, Rich was one of the first people I met. He immediately became my family.”Rich returns the inspiration he absorbs from the people he meets at the events. Killian continues:"I learned to rely on myself that weekend, and I learned that I was capable! I got to cross that finish line on Sunday, and Rich was again the first person I saw.”The ultimate test of racing is Ironman. Ironman is almost a mystical event for those of any gender - everyone who achieves it is called an Ironman. One of the most thrilling occurrences at just about any sports event happens when a competitor finally crosses the finish after 2+ miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and 26+ miles of running. A voice booms your name and then “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”The man who coined this epic exclamation point to the most grueling activity imaginable is Mike Reilly. He is a legend in the sport. After 40 years and 210 Ironman events, Reilly has dropped the mic. He announced his retirement earlier this year"Mike Reilly is my hero!” glows Fowler. “My dream is to be the next Mike Reilly.” He does let on that his style is a little different."I love entertaining the racers and making bad jokes.”Another appeal of announcing long course triathlons to Fowler is that they don’t close shop until every athlete has finished, sometimes late in the night."It feels great to have someone waiting,” he says with a bit of empathy. “Even when you come in last."His childlike enjoyment of the racing scene and his family of racers belies a caring person who thinks beyond the ego of being the center of attention. In fact, at one point while talking about his super charged pastimes he pauses."Actually, I think I’m a pretty boring person.”
In addition to his big voice, Rich Fowler has a big heart. He doesn’t let a little thing like a blown out knee or a weight problem or any of the other things that keep most people from challenging themselves impede him. Instead he rolls across the landscape like an electrical force, almost legendary, leaving in his wake a bunch of awe-struck fans. -------------------------------------------- Mikko Macchione is a writer, actor and voice coach, currently providing speaking voice coaching to executives, actors and others who want to speak with more power, authority and dynamics both from a stage, in a boardroom, or in individual conversations.