Scott Rigsby doesn’t mince words when he talks about the importance the Ironman played in his life.
“Plain and simple: Ironman saved my life,” he said.
In the summer of 1986, an 18-wheeler struck his truck as it tried to pass Rigsby and his friends on a narrow, two-lane road. Rigsby was thrown from his vehicle and dragged 324 feet before being pinned between the tires of their 3-ton trailer.
He lost one leg below the knee, and underwent 26 surgeries trying to save the other. He was a “professional patient,” constantly fearing infection and in never-ending pain. Over a decade later, he decided to have his second leg removed.
“I had struggled for 12 agonizing and painful years to try to make the best life I could,” he said during a recent interview. “It was clear to me that I needed this amputation.”
After the surgery, he traveled to Panama City Beach to get fitted for prosthetics. The Holiday Inn Beach Resort was the only place he could find that was able to accommodate his needs.
“The Holiday Inn became my refuge,” he said. “The staff washed my clothes. They took care of me. Most importantly, they spent time with me in lengthy, meaningful conversations about my life, family and dreams for the future.”
Rigsby was recently featured in Holiday Inn’s “Journey to Extraordinary” program, which highlights the unique stories of the millions of travelers that walk through its front doors every year.
“(Holiday Inn) became my family, because for 10 weeks they impacted every aspect of my life,” he said. “We laughed, shared hearts, cried and screamed for joy when I was able to walk without a walker or a cane. They didn’t know how they were going to get reimbursed for the bills I ran up, but that didn’t stop them from caring for me.”
After being fitted for prosthesis, Scott hit a low point in his life. “I was 39 years old, a survivor of a catastrophic motor vehicle accident that left me with a traumatic brain injury, PTSD and the loss of both legs below the knee. I was financially broke, and working a dead-end job. I was at a point that I no longer wanted to live,” he said.
“Lying on my parent’s living room floor in Camilla, Georgia with tears streaming down my cheeks, I cried out to God with one last ‘Hail Mary’ prayer,” he remembered.
The next day, Rigsby picked up a magazine and read about the Hawaiian Ironman. Next to it was an image of a single amputee soldier, competing in triathlons. Suddenly, he had his open door.
“The chance to use this race as a platform to comfort, encourage and inspire military families that their sacrifice was not in vain, and that they could still live an active lifestyle, awakened a passion in me to ‘do the unthinkable,’” he said.
With that, Rigsby decided to enter the Ironman. He spent months simply “building his base” by weight training, taking Pilates and concentrating on nutrition. “I didn’t know how to swim, I didn’t own a bike and I had never even run a mile on prosthetics,” he said. “It was a lot of trial, and mostly error.”
Despite his rigorous training, the race was still incredibly grueling. He admits that there were times he wanted to give up – he had problems with his prosthetics, he was injured heading into first 200 meters of his swim and wind gusts made headway nearly impossible.
“Coming into the last three miles, the pain was tremendous,” he said. “But when you see those finish line lights and hear the crowds screaming, it all comes into perspective. That final run down Alii Drive still gives me goose bumps.”
Today, Rigsby works tirelessly to support amputees, visiting schools for the disabled, counseling in military hospitals and even starting a foundation dedicated to inspiring people with loss of mobility to live their best lives. Asked what advice he would give to someone facing amputation, he said, “I would ask them to look at me and ask themselves, ‘Is that guy’s life over yet?’”
While he still competes in races across the country, he now considers them a means to a larger end.
“What drives my life today is more of a mission,” he said. “Wherever I am called to serve others with disabilities, and provide healing for families, is where my focus is.”