Thirty years ago this week, Scott Rigsby was an 18 year old, recent high school graduate, working a landscaping job along with three other classmates in order to make some money before heading off to college at the University of Georgia. The four classmates’ jobs were typically in spread out areas of rural Georgia. No cell phones. Long stretches of country roads between jobs. Long days. Sweltering heat.
Get the picture?
One day, after hours of working, the boys were heading home driving a pickup truck and pulling a long trailer with landscaping equipment. A tractor trailer pulled up behind the boys, and attempted to pass them. Up ahead was a narrow, single-lane bridge. The tractor trailer sped past the boys and attempted to complete the pass before coming up on the fast approaching bridge.
The larger truck cut over quickly and clipped the boys’ pickup truck. Two of the boys, including Scott, were thrown from the back of the pickup truck. The end result, while all the boys survived, was Rigsby’s legs severely damaged, mangled and nearly unrecognizable after being pulled beneath the trailer for nearly 300 feet on the hot Georgia asphalt. One leg was immediately severed off. The other barely hung on by threads of skin. His back had 3rd degree burns from the accident as well.
Eventually Scott would loose the mangled leg that remained.
Imagine being in the prime of your life, getting ready for college, all that excitement devastated within a matter of seconds.
Scott would eventually attend classes at UGA, and graduate. But his recovery was long-lasting. Years later he would describe battles with pain killer addiction, and depression. His life was spiraling out of control. Scott needed a break.
Scott recalls getting down on his knees one evening after realizing he could no longer have the day-to-day pity parties for himself. “God….”, Scott asked. “If you open one door for me, I will go through it.”
Be careful what you ask for….
What Scott really wanted was the “starfish syndrome” to occur. You know….where the legs would grow back.
But God had other plans for him.
Scott began a fitness regimen centered around running races and triathlons. Yes….triathlons.
He got aligned with the best medical help, prosthetics, and began competing. Baby steps at first. Eventually, Scott was not only on the local “radar” in Atlanta, but also on the national spotlight.
I recall reading about Scott’s efforts and I called him one day.
“Scott, you don’t know me. My name is Mike Lenhart and I’d like to create an organization that helps people with physical disabilities compete in triathlons….and I’d like to start with you!”
And for nearly 15 months after that, Scott and I would train together. Running, cycling, and swimming. We’d pick races as iterative goals to help gauge progress. 5 km races at first. Then 10 k’s. Then sprint triathlons. Eventually half-marathons and even a half-Ironman distance race!
But the goals didn’t stop there. Scott wanted to go to Hawaii and compete in the Ironman World Championship!
2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling, then a marathon (26.2 miles) of running.
All in one day!
Through some wrangling, Scott got his wish. The Ironman organization invited him to participate in the race under a “media entry”. Things suddenly got very serious in our training, to say the least!
Through the help of some generous sponsors, Scott and I traveled to Kona, Hawaii for that race. And in the wee hours of October 13, 2007, Scott Rigsby became the first double amputee to finish the Ironman World Championship!
When asked, Scott will joking say that his favorite part of that race was simply the “finish line”.
But catch him in a serious moment and Scott will tell you….”be careful what you ask God for…”.
While Scott was asking God to give him a door to walk through, and maybe get his legs back…..God had a different plan.
Today, years later, Scott is a frequent speaker on the motivational circuit as well as working a full time job for a medical company near Atlanta. His foundation, The Scott Rigsby Foundation, has a clear mission of inspiring, informing, and enabling individuals with disabilities to living a healthy, active lifestyle.
They also provide great assistance to our wounded service members across the country, providing comradery that may have been lost due to the visible and invisible scars of recent conflicts overseas.
While there are many lessons to Scott’s story, the lesson for me remains that God will always give us what we “need” and not always what we “want”.
My prayer this week is that we trust our Heavenly Father to always give us what we need even when we fail to see the full picture or believe in His “plan”.