If you ever need some inspiration to overcome obstacles in your life, you need look no further than the ranks of disabled athletes who accomplish feats most able-bodied folks never even try. (I wrote of my brief encounter with one here.) Scott Rigsby has accomplished what many never dream of trying, and what many who tried, failed to finish: completed an Ironman Triathlon. For the uninitiated, a triathlon is a race in which athletes swim, then bike, then run. Races can be a variety of distances, but the Ironman distance is 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run. A momentous feat for anyone who attempts it, but for Scott Rigsby, even more so: he did so on two prosthetic feet! He is the first double amputee to complete an Ironman triathlon.
Rigsby lost a leg due to injuries sustained in a terrible accident. He was riding in the back of a truck, and when they were sideswiped by an eighteen wheeler, he bounced out of the bed and was dragged under the trailer they were towing. One leg had to be amputated immediately. The doctors reconstructed the other, but after years of problems with infection and incomplete healing, Rigsby had the other one amputated as well.
The accident happened the summer after he graduated from high school. Scott's plans for college went out the window, and for many years he struggled with purpose and meaning. Seeking fulfillment in drink, drugs, women, and money, he coasted through life until, through the patient ministry of a campus minister, Rigsby gave his life to Christ. Rigsby is very honest about his life after becoming a Christian. Besides the usual struggles of a 20-something new Christian, he had to deal with erratic behavior caused by his traumatic brain injury, the emotional and physical pain of being a double amputee, and the difficulties of finding and keeping steady work in light of his TBI and physical disabilities. He eventually did graduate, but had a hard time maintaining a career.
His moment of revelation came shortly after Christmas in 2005. After reflecting on what an aimless mess he had made of his life, his mom, a faithful Christian, prayed with him. He responded by telling God, "If you will open up a door for me, I will run through it!" He didn't know how literally God would take that promise. A few weeks later a magazine cover caught his eye. It featured a single amputee who had completed the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii. He read that article, then picked up another magazine with an article about a soldier who had returned to Iraq after having a leg blown off. In those few minutes, he sensed that he had found the door he had asked God for: he was going to compete in an Ironman triathlon!
The tone of Rigsby's book, and the tone of his whole life, changed at that point. He was a high school athlete and an active kid before his accident, but he had never done anything like a triathlon. He had to learn how to swim again, teach himself to run on his prosthetic legs, and figure out how to ride a bike with prosthetics. I couldn't help being impressed and inspired by his determination and commitment. The best passages are where he describes his experience at the Emerald Coast Sprint Triathlon in Panama City, Florida (1/3 mile swim, 15 mile bike, 3.1 run). Before this, he had never even run a 5K, and was completely clueless about transitions between events, equipment, and racing. He finished dead last (I can relate to that) but realized that he could do it, and left that day even more determined to finish an Ironman.
I thoroughly enjoyed Rigsby's story, but I think I would have enjoyed a substantial magazine article just as much. In the first half of the book he tells every excruciating detail of his life. I wondered if the publisher said, "OK, this has to be at least 250 pages, so you need to add more filler," and he went back to tell stories and conversations that didn't add much to his story but added to the length. His coauthor, Jenna Glatzer, has written books about Celine Dion and Marilyn Monroe, so I guess the People magazine style of writing is to be expected. (And I wonder why they decided to capitalize the T in UnThinkable in the title? That kind of thing drives me crazy!)
My petty criticisms of the book aside, Rigsby has my full admiration. He has started The Scott Rigsby Foundation, "dedicated to influencing all physically challenged people and youth to pursue an active lifestyle." He is an active and inspiring speaker, traveling to schools, hospitals, churches, and companies, telling his story and encouraging the physically disabled and able bodied alike to pursue their dreams and reach for fantastic goals in spite of what might stand in their way. He challenges all of us to pursue a dream bigger than what we think we can accomplish, and make that dream a mission that can change the world. Thanks for the inspiration and more power to you, Scott!