After a terrible accident in 1986, Scott Rigsby eventually lost both his legs below the knee. The friendly Atlanta, GA resident eventually stumbled upon triathlon and has been a fixture in the sport the last few years. Slowtwitch had a few words with him.
ST: Scott, what is on your schedule for 2009?
Scott: I am spending the initial 3-4 months of 2009 re-building my base from a challenging year with my health in 2008. That being said, I have a goal of completing another Ironman and Half Ironman this year. That would also include a few international triathlon distances earlier in the year. I have a new training regiment that concentrates on my overall fitness to include weight training, pilates, and nutrition with more focus on improving my technique in all three swim, bike and run disciplines. I am like the "Ricky Bobby" of triathlon. There's a small team of great coaches and doctors that assist me as it takes a lot of folks to make me function.
I have my sights set on doing IM CDA this year. That's where I broke a vertebra in my back in 2007, so I want to finish what I started there. I would love to go back to Kona again, so I am placing my name in the physically challenged lottery. Since my PC category does not yet have a qualifying process, it's left up to chance. I feel great after a difficult and frustrating last 12 months. My mind, body, and spirit are completely renewed and I am enjoying training heavy again, so let’s see how the year goes.
ST: Do you think anybody who is able bodied can truly imagine what you go through?
Scott: No, but in fairness to all your able bodied readers, I don't know what they go through either. I can walk in everyone of your reader's shoes because I can choose how big or small I want to make my feet. I know it's an unfair advantage for me (ha). Seriously, my physical challenges may be obvious to some and these challenges cause me to have to adapt and overcome problems regarding prosthetic issues on the bike and run. For instance, able bodied people don’t have to worry about dumping sweat out of their prosthetics every 4-5 miles when running on really hot days. However, when I am healthy, I train like everyone else for my race day needs and learn through trial and error how to make it to the finish line. What we all share is the emotional and spiritual battles in this life, which most of the time far surpass the greatest physical challenges. I believe that the PC athlete and the able bodied athlete alike have to overcome some serious personal issues, doubts and fears. We can use sport, and particularly triathlon, to help us overcome and deal with our challenges as part of an overall healing process and pushing ourselves to greater heights.
ST: Can you give us a brief recount of the accident that changed your life?
Scott: I grew up in southwest Georgia, when in the summer of 1986, disaster
struck and my dreams were shattered. I had just graduated from high school and was riding down a country road in the back of a pickup truck with my three best friends. Our truck was towing a trailer full of lawn mowers. A driver of an 18-wheeler who had been following us for 10 miles became impatient and tried to pass us on a double yellow lined, two-lane road with a very narrow bridges ahead. As the 18-wheeler went by, it hit our flat bed trailer. Before I knew what was happening, I found myself thrown from the truck and clinging to the side of the pickup. I slipped off and was dragged 324 feet on the hot Georgia asphalt when one of my legs became pinned in a brace between the tires of our 3-ton trailer of lawn mowers.
Fortunately for me, our vehicle stopped between two houses and someone was actually home so that we could call an ambulance from the nearest hospital. I lost one leg below the knee from the accident and underwent 26 surgeries trying to save the other leg before having it also removed over a decade later.
ST: You mentioned that incident at Ironman Coeur D'Alene in 2007. What exactly happened?
Scott: Around mile 60 on the bike course, I was riding down a hill, and my chain locked up on me and I crashed. The impact of my fall cracked a vertebra in the process, but I didn't know about it at the time so I kept going and made the bike cutoff by 10 minutes. I started the run and was in a lot of pain before one of my friends stopped me and suggested we take a trip to the hospital if I wanted to have any chance at showing up to the starting line in Kona. I have experienced physical pain before so I initially thought I had just some bumps and bruises.
To say that I was disappointed would be a huge understatement. I had spent 9 or 10 days in April 2007 prior to the race riding the course almost every day. I knew every inch of that road. That same training week the CDA press did a 4 page story on me that won an AP sports award so everyone in CDA was following me. The day before the race CNN Headline news ran a story on my every 30 minutes so numerous people across the country were following my progress.
If that wasn't enough, three months earlier at ING GA Marathon I had been running so much that I lost a lot of weight and my prosthetic legs did not fit properly. We did not have time to make new ones so I had to run the marathon with legs that did not fit. I had dumped out cups of blood by mile 6 and every 5 to 6 miles, but I finished in 5 hours. It wasn’t fun for me or for the people that witnessed it. I can’t repeat some of the comments I heard!
But all things happen for a purpose and I believe both of these humbling experiences helped prepare me and get me through Kona.
ST: Can you describe what it was like for you to cross the finish line at the 2007 Ironman Hawaii?
Scott: I was able to come out to Kona as a volunteer this past year and only then did it really dawn on me the magnitude of the race. The 2007 finish line for me and the run down Alii Drive still gives me goose bumps. The noise of the crowd was unlike anything I have heard at a SEC football game. I saw Mike Reilly announcing that I was an Ironman, but I could barely hear him over the noise. It was great to see my team there and all the friends who came out to congratulate me. I felt like the 800 lb. gorilla of pressure that was on my back to finish was gone and words cannot describe the amount of relief I felt.
The thing I think about the most is those last 3 miles coming down the Queen K and seeing the lights of the finish area. I was in intense pain since I could not stop to dump my prosthetics sweat due to the time issue. The blisters and slippage down the home stretch was insane. However, I thought about my brother Tim who was born mentally retarded and hasn't walked a day in his life. I envisioned walking him across the finish line someday and that kept me going. There's no place on earth like running down the chute on Alii Drive and you can only know that feeling after enduring the elements of Kona.
ST: Talk about the Scott Rigsby Foundation.
Scott: I am very excited about the direction and opportunities for the Scott Rigsby Foundation. The idea was birthed in 2006 after I participated in a prosthetic running study comparing amputee runner's to able-bodied runners. A Georgia Tech Phd student, Beth Brown, a fellow multiple Ironman finisher, helped me realize how many gaps existed in the industry for truly enabling amputees to live an active lifestyle. The SRF has three primary focus areas including raising funds to further prosthetics research and technology for running and cycling; providing grants to wounded soldiers and the physically challenged to enable their athletic pursuits; and, in partnership with two international nonprofits, establishing prosthesis communities in developing countries.
I spoke to over 10,000 people in 2008 about "Doing the Unthinkable" to raise
awareness and advocate for our cause. I have been overwhelmed by the amount of interest from people around the world interested in partnering with us. We created a virtual fundraising group of triathletes, cyclists and runners called "The Unthinkables" and have a number of people already signed up for 2009. Chrissie Wellington, two-time Ironman World Champion and a great friend, will be adding her insights to the group to support our efforts. I invite all of your readers that have a passion for our mission to check out the website and contact us about supporting joining the team (www.scottrigsby.com)
ST: What do you do in terms of training?
Scott: As with most athletes, my training varies a lot depending on the time of year. Right now I'm re-establishing my base, doing a lot of drill work, spending time in the gym, and in physical therapy working on core conditioning, functional strength and balance. I came into triathlon with no background in any of the 3 sports and have always struggled with my technique, so I've made it a goal this year to really focus on that. My greatest challenge training is that I don’t have a frame of reference.
I have been the tip of the sword in term of double amputees and what can be done in our sport. Hopefully, my failures and setbacks can be use to help others like me be more successful. I am currently riding a bike that is about 3 sizes to small. I have been working with Eddie O'Dea of 55nine Performance on my bike fit and cycling technique. He has worked with me to setup my bike optimally using the Wobble-Naught fit system and quantified the setup based on my skeletal and prosthetic measurements. This has to be refined every time my prosthetics change. We are using the Dartfish video analysis to constantly work on my form and technique which has resulted in more comfort and some of my best bike splits to date. There have been some major challenges with getting into an aero position mostly due to balance or lack there of, so we are still working in that area. I am seeking a bike sponsor for 2009 season that could work with us so that we can progress to a stable aero position.
I have been extremely fortunate to have worked with a number of coaches and trainers over the past two years, and I am forever grateful to them for their investment in my success. This year, I am working with Chris Baker who has a very deep interest in working with physically challenged athletes. He's the owner of Train4Endurance (www.train4endurance.com). I really like his philosophy of "Life Balance." It's a great philosophy that I think works for athletes and non-athletes alike. He also has the education, personal experience, and passion that will make him a great addition to my team.
ST: How are things going for you in terms of sponsorship?
Scott: I have been blessed to work with some great companies that have assisted me over the past 2 years and I would personally like to thank Freedom Innovations, Procare Prosthetics, Zoot Sports, Soliant Health, Headsweats, Georgia Sports Chiropractic, Georgia Sports Massage, 55nine Performance, and Athletic Training Services for their continued support. I also have a list on my website of local businesses in Atlanta that provide ongoing medical and training help. For me, sponsors are more like family than business partners. The people at these companies are down-to-earth and really invest time and effort to help me do what I do.
That being said, I am sure that your readers who rely on sponsors share the same challenges in securing and maintaining sponsorships, especially in a tough economy. I have learned plenty about the process and now have a better appreciation for what it takes to make it work. My personal desire is that a sponsor shares the same passions for the sport but also for my overall mission and purpose. I fully appreciate the business side of the relationship, but we should also work together to inspire people as partners. That being said, for any potential sponsors, and especially within the cycling industry, there is a tremendous opportunity to work with us in 2009 to advance research and technology for the physically challenged. I look forward to hearing from you!
ST: What other sports do you enjoy?
Scott: In terms of watching sports, I love college football. Growing up in the South, it a religion to some people. I am not in the lunatic fringe group, but I am close. I enjoy that passion for the game that the amateur athletes bring to the table. My Physical Therapist, Kate McDonald, is South African so she got me into watching rugby. She’s very enthusiastic so I am careful not to make comparisons of the two sports.
As for playing other sports, I love playing flag football and softball. However, this year I would love to try surfing and skiing. My friend, Amy Purdy, is a famous double amputee skier and snowboarder and she is volunteering to show me the ropes. I would also like to start mountain biking but I need to save up some money to get a bike. One of my goals is to complete Kona for a second time and then finish the XTERRA World Championship.
ST: Can you share with us some of your food likes and dislikes?
Scott: I really like food and it really likes me and therein lies my issue. I might have been the only participant in Kona that actually gained weight on race day! I have a cast iron stomach so I can basically eat anything. I had 3200 calories in Power Gels and 1600 calories on the bike and a small meal at special needs in Hawi. All those calories were supplemented by 26 cups of cola and Gatorade on the run. I was so jacked up on sugar and caffeine that I could not sleep for 3 or 4 hours after the race.
This past year I have had much time to reflect on my health and I had to give myself a heart to stomach talk and my heart won. I think that I have an amazing opportunity to do some special things in the world of multisport, continue to introduce our sport to an untapped general population, and inspire a growing population of obese kids to become active. Having said that, to reach my "Unthinkable" future goals and be a great role model, the "Big Rig" as my friends call me needs to downsize to a much smaller frame. The fastest double amputee swimmers, cyclists, and runners are stealth and that's where I am going this year. I have dropped 20 pound already and I am on my way.
ST: What music do you listen to?
Scott: I grew up on college bands like REM, U2, Depeche Mode, Guadalcanal Diary, Joy Division, Hoodoo Gurus, The Connells, Violent Femmes, The Cure, and The Smithereens just to name a few and my friends say that I am still stuck in the early 80's. I also like some of the neo new wave bands like The Bravery and The Killers. I really only listen to music when I am training, otherwise I listen to sports talk radio, The Paul Finebaum Show, (Hiralous!). When training I love to listen to bands like Finger Eleven, Clint Mansell, Jem, Mogwai, Darude, Lasgo, and DJ Tiesto. If you are ever in Atlanta and want to get a butt kicking spin class while listening to the best training music, check out Athletic Training Services and coach Tony Myers. He rocks!
ST: What was the last book you read?
Scott: I am currently re-reading Blue like Jazz, (Donald Miller) and Descending into Greatness, (Bill Hybels). I, personally, do not have to buy in a writer's religious views to understand when they are offering a fresh, new perspective on life. These authors seem to have a healthy view on personal faith while respecting and appreciating the views and beliefs of others. Since I speak to so many kids across the country and I don’t have any kids of my own, I read some kids books like Eggbert: The Slightly Cracked Egg, and The Velveteen Rabbit, for example, to try to clearly communicate my story to them.
ST: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Scott: The way I see it, my journey has just begun so I am motivated to make the most of these next 5 years. I have a great passion for multisport and a desire to create many opportunities for the physically challenged. When God opened a door for me when I was at my lowest point, I was willing to do whatever was asked of me to fulfill my purpose in this life. The journey to complete this purpose has really just begun. Crossing the finish line in Kona would be meaningless if I did not use this platform to inspire all people to become more physically active. It would also be a totally self-centered achievement if I did not use that accomplishment to enable other physically challenged people to benefit from the research it is providing. While I hope to continue in triathlon and other cool sporting events, I want to be an active participant in inspiring kids, the physically challenged and our injured military to "Do the Unthinkable" in their lives. There's a great opportunity for me to use my talents to promote health and wellness in the U.S. and advance prosthetic technology and support systems worldwide. Wherever that leads me, I will follow.
ST: Is there anything else we should know about you?
Scott: If you happen to see me competing at a triathlon event this year, you will notice how I grow in height over the course of the race. Do not be alarmed. As I use three different sets of prosthesis for the swim, bike and run, this is normal. This unique talent also comes in handy when dating as I can set my height to the specific requirements of my date.
Scott Rigsby's website is scottrigsby.com