Scott Rigsby had survived the accident, the operations, the amputations of both legs and the prescription drug addiction, but in 2005 he was broke, depressed and going nowhere fast.
“I was 39 years old and working a dead-end job,” he says. “I wanted to take my life. I knew [there was] a plan for my life, but I wasn’t fulfilling it. I wanted to check out.”
In desperation, Rigsby says he cried out to God, “Hey, man, if you open the door, I’ll run through it.”
“Be careful what you wish for,” he says, laughing, in a phone interview from his home near Atlanta.
Two weeks later, Rigsby was in an Atlanta bookstore and read about the Ironman distance triathlon World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
“I said, ‘Wow, OK, that’s what I’m supposed to do,’” he says.
Less than two years later, that’s what Rigsby did. On Oct. 13, 2007, he became the first double-amputee on prosthetics in the world to finish an Ironman distance triathlon.
Today, he’ll be present at the second annual Run for God Dalton Parks and Recreation Triathlon and on Sunday will speak at the 9:30 and 11 a.m. services at Grove Level Baptist Church in Dalton, Ga.
Rigsby says his primary message when he speaks is that today’s unthinkables are tomorrow’s realities.
“What you perceive personally or professionally,” he says, “if you have the drive and have the right people around, you can do.”
Rigsby’s message is not unlike the Run for God program, which offers participants — even those lounging on the couch with no running experience whatsoever — an opportunity to join the 5K Challenge, a practical guide to running and a 12-week training plan aimed at completing a 5K while maintaining a Christian focus.
“You can’t steer a parked car,” Rigsby says. “You’ve got to be moving to steer the vehicle. [Run for God’s aim is] to get people moving. If they get people moving, they will be better. Their bodies will be better. Their outlook on life will be better. Running is a great activity, a family activity.”
When Rigsby made the triathlon World Championship his goal, he was a good sight worse than any couch potato who might decide to get off his backside and run.
“I didn’t know how to swim,” he says. “I had never ridden a bike with prosthetic legs. I had never even run the 0.2 of the 26.2 [miles in an Ironman triathlon].”
Rigsby, 45, already had come so far since the summer when he was 18 years old and riding in the back of a pickup truck as he returned from a landscaping job near his home of Moultrie, Ga. He and his friends were talking sports, girls and plans for the weekend when the truck was hit by a passing 18-wheeler, throwing the incoming college freshman underneath the tractor-trailer and dragging him 300 feet.
More than two decades, countless surgeries and mounds of fear later brought Rigsby to the December day when he cried out to God.
“Fear stops people in their tracks,” he says. “It’s the biggest killer of our dreams. Either they don’t step out into the unknown, or they step out and they hear people doubting them. Or they hear their own doubt and decide to go back. This is where most people are left.”
The same is true for people wary of getting involved in the Run for God program.
“Runners come in all shapes and sizes,” Rigsby says, referring to “a big ol’ boy — not small” preacher he met recently who had completed a double marathon in South Africa. “I’m built like a linebacker. So maybe if people see he can still run, and he doesn’t have any legs,” it will inspire them.
People, in fact, can control their fear, he says.
“The unknown is already a given,” Rigsby says. “It’s a choice to live in fear, to walk in fear.”
He should know. He’s already stepped into it — and past it.
Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at email@example.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to my posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...