Despite authoring 10 books on his way to becoming an internationally known athletic coach and professional speaker, Martin Rooney ’93 wouldn’t have described himself as a writer. That changed after book No. 11, “Coach to Coach: An Empowering Story About How to Be a Great Leader” (Wiley 2020), was published in March.
“I am so many different things it’s hard to describe my job,” Rooney said. “But now I actually do consider myself a writer, and I take great pride in that.”
Rooney is the founder of Training for Warriors (TFW), a group-fitness program originally created for combat athletes but now taught by trainers at over 200 licensed TFW locations in more than 20 countries. Rooney’s previous books focused primarily on fitness and exercise and have sold almost 200,000 copies in half-dozen languages, but “Coach to Coach” sees Rooney exploring the world of fiction for the first time through the struggles of protagonist Brian Knight.
Knight finds a mentor in a mysterious older coach, who is based on a coach Rooney had as a high school athlete in New Jersey who played a significant role in Rooney becoming a four-time All-Southern Conference track and field athlete at Furman and inspired him to become a professional coach himself.
“A lot of the coaching philosophy I’ve taught around the world stems from my coach, Bill Scarola,” Rooney said. “It was an honor to dedicate ‘Coach to Coach’ to him.”
After graduating from Furman with a degree in health and exercise science and earning a bachelor’s in physical therapy and a Master of Health Science from the Medical University of South Carolina, Rooney began training under legendary mixed martial artist Renzo Gracie in New York City. Not long after, he started training fighters himself and became involved with sports performance training company Parisi Speed School, rising to COO and making connections that led to him becoming a consultant for a number of NFL and college teams as well as special operations forces like the Army Rangers and Navy SEALs.
As the level of his clientele increased, Rooney had a coaching breakthrough.
“When I was working with top athletes, I realized my results weren’t only due to the sport knowledge I had, it was also about my ability to connect.” Rooney said. “And that’s when I deep dove into what it really meant to be a coach.”
Rooney was a two-time SoCon champion in the javelin, in 1991 and 1993, and finished third in 1990 and second in 1992. He held the Furman record in the event until it was broken by David Moseley ’08. He’s also the holder of two Guinness World Records for team deadlifts and pushups.
In 1995, Rooney was selected from an open tryout to be a member of the U.S. national bobsleigh team and spent 1995 to 1997 living at the Lake Placid Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Lake Placid, New York. His team driver was Olympic medalist and coach Todd Hayes, whose history as a national kickboxing champion sparked an interest in martial arts that has led Rooney to achieving a black belt in Kodokan judo and purple belt in Brazilian jiujitsu.
“Even with all the writing I do now, I still feel like an athlete at heart,” said Rooney, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his wife and four daughters.
Rooney spent over a decade on the editorial council of Gracie Magazine and was a regular contributor to Men’s Health. He credits Furman for helping lay the groundwork for his enthusiasm for writing.
“Although I graduated as a health and exercise science major, which was my passion, the great education I received in writing and reading from Furman has all come back to what I do today,” said Rooney, who still keeps in close contact with mentor and Furman Professor of Health Sciences Tony Caterisano. “I remember freshman year at Furman, my English teacher said, ‘None of you should be good enough writers yet to achieve an A in this class.’ I took that as a challenge, and I wrote and wrote until I had learned so much. I was proud of that B-plus.”
“Coach to Coach” came out only weeks before COVID-19 struck, and the ongoing pandemic has had a big impact on Rooney’s company. A silver lining, though, is he’s had time to write a quick sequel set 25 years later, which is tentatively titled “The Culture Coach: An Inspiring Story About How to Build a Winning Team.”
“Because of the quarantine, I took the opportunity to spend a handful of months this year as a professional writer,” he said. “The next book is another work of fiction about how to create a winning team. I think it is my best yet.”
An Amazon bestseller, “Coach to Coach: An Empowering Story About How to Be a Great Leader” is available for purchase here