By Benita M. Dodd
Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday in May. Most Americans take a moment from picnics on the unofficial start of the summer to honor those in the armed forces who have died. Some families grieve every day for those lost in action; some return and grieve for fallen comrades they couldn’t save.
For others, it’s even more personal: They return from military action alive but with lasting physical and emotional scars.
That’s where Scott Rigsby comes in. Rigsby was 18 and about to start college in 1986 when he was in a wreck involving a tractor-trailer. Both legs were amputated and his struggle to recovery, physical and psychological, was long, difficult and painful.
Yet Rigsby rallied to become the first person to complete the grueling Hawaiian Ironman on prosthetics. Today, as an author and professional speaker, his mission is “to encourage people to do more than they thought possible in pursuit of their dreams.”
Millions of people have been inspired by the Scott Rigsby Foundation and Rigsby’s brutally honest autobiography, “Unthinkable.”
It is his passion for supporting and inspiring injured military service men and women in their transition back to their homes, however, that drives Rigsby every day. He travels across the nation, along with the executive director of his Foundation, Scott Johnson. They visit military bases in Georgia and around the country, and medical centers including Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Balboa Naval Medical Center San Diego, and the San Antonio Military Medical Center.
Seeing first-hand the enormous challenges and needs of wounded, ill and traumatized warriors, they teamed up in Georgia with Ross Mason, himself a quadriplegic after a cycling accident, to provide warriors with healing, rehabilitation and transitional services. Mason and Johnson established The Warrior Alliance, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that encourages and promotes collaboration among existing groups to ease veterans’ assimilation back into their communities.
The Warrior Alliance partners with the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency/Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute to provide vocational rehabilitation, with the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia for those who need specialized training, and with employers and nonprofits such as Hire Heroes to place those ready for employment.
A man of faith, Rigsby works to serve both as a lesson and an example. His personal struggle involved a 20-year battle with depression, fear and anxiety. His prayer, he says, is: “Maybe they all can look at me and say, ‘You know what? Life has been tough, but if this guy can make it, then I can make it.’”
It’s working. To date, he has counseled more than 1,500 warriors. One success story he shares with pride involves Army Master Sgt. Cedric King.
Rigsby was visiting Walter Reed in 2013 where King was recovering after losing both legs when he stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device) in Afghanistan.
King saw Rigsby meeting with service members and asked him about his 2007 Ironman accomplishment. It was the start of a friendship in which the two discussed the emotional and physical journey of life as an amputee and the importance of health and wellness as a major first step.
King was so inspired that he agreed to run with the Scott Rigsby Foundation team in the 2014 Boston Marathon to honor the 2013 marathon bombing survivors. He finished that race and asked to join the team again to race later that year in the Scott Rigsby Foundation’s charity race at the Ironman 70.3 Augusta, in Georgia.
King crossed the Ironman finish line two hours after the course had closed. Dozens were still there to cheer him. The story was captured in the 2014 HBO Films worldwide telecast on Veterans Day, “Concert for Valor,” and seen by millions of people around the globe.
Since then, King has gone on to compete in many races nationally and travels across the country, speaking to thousands of military veterans, organizations and schools to inspire them to overcome their challenges.
This Memorial Day, as we honor fallen warriors, let’s take a moment to be grateful, too, for understanding, compassionate individuals and organizations like Scott Rigsby, his Foundation and The Warrior Alliance. For many Americans, they’re helping level the playing field after the battlefield.
Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the view of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.
© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (May 27, 2016). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and her affiliations are cited.