Scott Rigsby swam Friday morning in the murky Savannah River wondering what – if anything – hid in the water.
The fear of seeing any unwanted visitors in the water is a small one these days for him. Besides, what can be worse than swimming in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii in the Ironman World Championship, knowing sharks are nearby?
Or, consider his other fear.
After losing his right leg in a car accident in the mid-1980s, he planned to enjoy his experience at the University of Georgia. Then, it hit him: Who wanted to get to know the guy with the prosthetic limb?
“I wanted to meet a pretty girl, get married and have children,” he said. “I was gripped with fear. How was I going to do that? How was I going to date anyone?”
The double-leg amputee, who is competing in the ESi Ironman 70.3 Augusta on Sunday, is no longer crippled by anxiety. He’s an author, an inspirational speaker and a world-class athlete.
Five years ago, the 44-year-old Rigsby became the first double-amputee below the knee to finish the 140.6-mile Ironman in Hawaii. Last year, he did it again.
His journey began July 23, 1986. Rigsby, the youngest of seven siblings who grew up in Camilla, Ga., sat on the toolbox on the back of a moving pickup, working for a landscaping company before he entered college. An 18-wheeler tried to pass, but as the vehicles approached a narrow bridge, the 18-wheeler swerved back over and hit the truck.
The 18-year-old Rigsby was dragged 320 feet underneath the 3-ton trailer. He immediately lost his right leg five inches below his right knee. He then endured 26 surgeries in 12 years to repair his left leg. At age 30, he finally had had enough and persuaded his doctor to cut off his left leg. Six weeks after the surgery, he went running with his prosthetics.
“I was tired of being a patient,” he said.
After battling with prescription drugs and depression, Rigsby decided he didn’t want to live anymore. In desperation, he sent up a prayer.
“Hey God,” he said, “if you open up the door, I’ll run through it.”
Two weeks later, he went to a bookstore and read about the Ironman competition. He wondered whether any double-amputees had ever competed in an Ironman World Championship, and he soon began training for the Hawaii event. Eighteen months later, he finished in 16 hours, 42 minutes, 46 seconds, beating the cutoff time by 17 minutes.
“It’s amazing when you start a journey, it becomes a mission bigger than you,” he said. “Today’s unthinkables are tomorrow’s realities.”
Last year, he again competed in the Ironman World Championship to bring awareness to the Scott Rigsby Foundation, the official charity partner of the Augusta Half Ironman for the next three years. The Scott Rigsby Foundation helped launch the first Wounded Warrior Family Retreat in 2010 in Warm Springs, Ga.
Four retreats to the three-day camp will be held this year. In 2013, that number will double, with 100 families expected to attend.
Rigsby wants to continue to help wounded veterans and their families in the future. He has several races scheduled, and he’ll continue his career as an inspirational speaker – he has an upcoming event with the Green Bay Packers.
As for the ESi Ironman 70.3 Augusta, Rigsby wants to continue to bring awareness to his foundation. He said he has no time goals.
“The goal of every race is to finish,” he said. “My life is a mission. My goal is to enjoy the day.”