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Saturday, Mar 28, 2015

The gift of giving goes full circle

Hernando Today correspondent


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An admirable goal for local prep student/athletes is to give back to the community who raised them.

Such is the case of Christopher John LaRocca.

Chris, as his friends and family call him, was born in New Port Richey, but raised with two brothers (twin brother Mike and Danny) in Hernando County by his parents: Bruce and Rose LaRocca of Spring Hill.

Bruce was a fixture in the neighborhood serving as a Winn-Dixie supermarket store manager for over 20 years until passing away in 2000.

Though neither parent was athletic per se, LaRocca remembers his parents putting up a united front.

"They were both genuinely supportive. If us kids were going to play a sport, we weren't going to quit when the going got tougher," recalls the chiseled 5-foot-10, 215-pound LaRocca.

LaRocca's initial organized sport was on the pitch participating in recreation soccer until sixth grade.

He also participated in Hernando Youth League baseball, mostly alternating between catcher and outfield.

None of the LaRocca boys ventured into football until matriculating to Powell Middle School.

Interestingly, upon arrival at the campus, they each branched out.

LaRocca's homeroom teacher, Steve Whaley, who served as the football team's offensive line coach, encouraged him daily to come out.

"I always wanted to play football," explained LaRocca. "But my mom wanted to make sure we could handle it."

Under football skipper Bill Vonada, LaRocca played defensive end and offensive guard as a seventh-grader and running back and linebacker as an eighth-grader.

On the hardwood, LaRocca played power forward for two seasons of hoops.

In the spring, he remained active competing in the 400 meter, 4x100 relay, shot put and discus as a seventh-grader.

A year later, he finished second individually at the Hernando Middle School Conference Championships in the hurdles, placed third in shot and discus, and lost in the finals of the 4x100 besides competing in the 400.

The relay loss still haunts him.

"We won every race that year in the 4x100," said LaRocca. "Except the last one."

LaRocca's hectic athletic lifestyle was not altered upon matriculating to Springstead.

In all, LaRocca lettered in four different varsity sports.

In weightlifting, LaRocca finished third in the Sunshine Athletic Conference as a senior.

In track and field under veteran mentor Fred Hudson, LaRocca competed in the pole vault, 100, 200 and 4x100 relay essentially for four seasons.

Oddly enough, he couldn't compete in the pole vault as a senior when the pit area on the field was condemned.

On the mats under future Hall of Fame coach Bob Levija, LaRocca wrestled on JV as a freshman, was injured as a sophomore (right knee anterior cruciate ligament tear) and split duty on the mats on JV and varsity as a junior and senior.

At Booster Stadium, LaRocca recalls playing tight end on JV as a freshman before alternating between tight end, outside linebacker and running back for three varsity seasons - initially under Bill Browning (1995) and the final two campaigns under Pat McCoy (1996-97).

That 1996 Eagle squad was the last SHS team to raise a district championship banner until Vonada's 15th and final varsity squad turned the trick last fall.

Life-changing experience

Coming off a serious knee injury as a sophomore, LaRocca tweaked his back during his junior season. He decided to visit SHS' team physician at the time, chiropractor Drew Kycynka. That visit changed his prospective on life.

"I wasn't feeling right, but after Dr. Kycynka adjusted my back, I felt tremendous," recalled LaRocca. "That's when I kind of had an epiphany. I've always wanted to help people. I'm a people person and I thought this guy just helped me max out. He just helped manage my injuries.

"That's what I want to do," said LaRocca. "I liked the idea of helping heal the human body. Being a chiropractor is very hands-on and without drugs - I really liked that notion."

LaRocca graduated from SHS in 1998 and studied for the next two years at Tallahassee Community College in Leon County before transferring to Florida State University.

LaRocca eventually earned a Bachelor of Science degree in exercise science, fitness and nutrition.

Upon graduation from FSU, LaRocca immediately began his doctorate program at Palmer Chiropractic College in Port Orange.

After four years at Palmer Chiropractic, he completed his national board certification and also passed his Florida board training earning his Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine degree.

He worked for six months at Bay West Health and Rehab before being employed for two years at Nature Coast Chiropractic Clinic in Spring Hill.

In May 2012, LaRocca opened up the doors of his Commercial Way office. This spring, he expanded his scope opening his second office to serve the needs of his Brooksville patients.

"Getting this far wasn't easy," detailed LaRocca. "I remember getting through my prerequisites was tough - 'cause I wasn't really great in math - but I hung tough and remained dedicated to my studies.

"I'd suggest to anyone who'd like to be a chiropractor to shadow them first and see how they perform and interact with their patients," pointed out LaRocca. "Nine out of 10 times, I see patients who have seen other doctors. They've all got questions and they just want to feel better. It's like they're broken toys and I've got to put them back together."

LaRocca admits the most gratifying portion of his job comes with each patient's smile.

"The key is getting patients out of pain," noted LaRocca. "After years of pain if a patient can walk away refreshed, I've done my job. In our business, the patients come first.

"I see multiple patients twice a week," declared the 33-year-old LaRocca on his weekly routine. "Practically 80-90 percent of my time is dealing with patient needs. The other half is dealing with insurance companies."

When LaRocca is not in the office, he stays fit lifting weights and working out at Progress Fitness.

"Working out is a mental release; it's something I do all the time," said LaRocca. "My wife knows that if I don't get my workouts in, I get cranky.

"How can I see patients if I'm weighing 300 pounds and out of shape?" queried LaRocca on why he maintains a strict workout regime. "I'm asking them to eat better and take better care of themselves, well, I should too."

LaRocca doesn't have a mantra above his desk, it's in his heart.

"My mom always taught her boys to treat everyone with respect and dignity, it's something that's ingrained," he said. "You have to carry yourself in a good manner."

Chris married 1997 SHS graduate Jodi Yancey in 2009. The LaRocca family includes his 10-year-old stepson, Noah, and 3-year-old Gabrielle.

Mrs. LaRocca recently began her ninth year of teaching in Hernando County and fifth at Nature Coast Technical with ESE children.

The LaRoccas are recognizable proof of productive citizens giving back to their community.

"I think it's important for guys and girls to come back (to their community) and give whatever you can," stressed LaRocca. "If athletes are hurt or injured, it means a great deal for me to help them regain their form.

"As a former Springstead athlete it just feels good to give back to the community that helped me achieve my dreams," said LaRocca. "The more I give, the more I get back in return."

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