When he was a junior in high school, Rick Scarpulla was driving his car when he was blindsided by a Cadillac. The results of the wreck were so bad that doctors said he died three separate times, and when Scarpulla finally came to, he was faced with one of the most difficult decisions of his life: amputation of his left leg or an experimental surgery that would leave him in a wheelchair.

Scarpulla chose the latter.

He spent a year and a half transitioning from a wheelchair, to crutches, to a cane, and when he was well enough to walk on his own again, he had one goal. “I be came hell-bent on getting strong,” he says. For a man who had come back from a crushed left leg, weakness was just another adversary to be beaten back.

His struggles trying to earn back that strength, and his experience on the staff of some of the top weightlifting and athlete development programs in the world, led him to develop the Ultimate Athlete Training Program. The method doesn’t revolve around heavy weights, but uses a variety of nonstandard training styles to build strength, agility, and faster reaction times. Thirty years later, he’s still tweaking it. His training center, Ultimate Advantage in Middletown, NY, is a breeding ground for success. Scarpulla says he sees in every one of his athletes what he saw in himself: a hunger to achieve, even when faced with adversity. Nowadays, athletes from middle schoolers to Olympians travel across the globe to train with him in his facility.

“I started to coach athletes because I wanted to help people,” he says. “The classroom just wasn’t my place.”