Isaiah Rigo races way into Cheney's heart
At 14-years old, Otter Pops, video games and lake days consume most kids’ summers.
But for Isaiah Rigo, he was busy competing at the 2013 International Paralympic World Championships in Lyon, France.
The Cheney Middle School student made his hometown proud taking fifth place in the T52-1500M as a member of the United States national Paralympic team.
And even though Rigo, who was born with arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder where joints are stiff and muscles abnormally developed, was one of the 76 athletes from the U.S. to compete at the 2013 Worlds, he was unlike any of them.
Because at 14-years old, Rigo was the youngest Paralympic athlete chosen to represent the United States in 2013.
“Certainly to make a World Championship team at the age of 14 is pretty amazing,” Rigo’s ParaSport Spokane coach/trainer Teresa Skinner, said. “That doesn’t happen very often.”
“It felt pretty good,” Rigo said. “Being only 14 and all it felt pretty good.”
Track is something that has always felt good to Rigo.
His journey began in 2007 when he joined Skinner at ParaSport after being inspired by seeing other disabled athletes “just having a fun time” while competing at track events in Spokane.
And thanks in large part to a relentless work ethic, Rigo has steadily progressed from spectator to one of the top U.S. wheelchair athletes.
“That’s one of the greatest things about Isaiah,” Skinner said. “He truly loves to work hard and loves to have a goal to strive for and is one of those kids that pays attention to what the standards are to even be considered for a team. He’s definitely driven and I never have to worry about Isaiah not working hard enough, I actually have to worry about Isaiah working too hard.”
All Rigo’s hard work paid off at the National Championships in San Antonio, Texas as he met the standard times for the T52 classification (athletes competing in a wheelchair, in which a lower number indicates a higher activity limitation, in Isaiah’s case hand and upper extremity impairment) for the 100M, 200M, 400M, 800M and 1500M events.
And even though Rigo met each standard, he had to hold his breath and wait to see if he also had the start right, meaning he finished with a top three time out of the U.S. competitors in his events since the national team can only take three Americans for each event.
Rigo was relieved when he found out that he had been selected for a slot in the men’s T52-100M, 200M and 1500M for the World’s in France.
“He was beside himself,” Skinner said. “He knew there was a potential but until someone actually says it’s official and you’re really going to Lyon, France, and you’re really on the USA World Championship team, even as much as you might know that’s a possibility, it’s not real until somebody actually tells you its real. He was totally beside himself.”
Skinner would join Rigo in France, as she was one of the two coaches nationwide selected to coach the 26 wheelchair athletes at the Worlds.
She witnessed a young and unfazed Rigo race to a respectable eighth place finish in both the 100M and 200M men’s finals and a brilliant fifth place performance in the 1500M with a time of 4:31.24.
“To make a final at the Paralympic level is huge at a young age,” Skinner said. “It’s a huge deal to be 14 and to be able to handle that type of pressure and to not collapse under it and not get so overwhelmed that its too much and then your performance doesn’t show what you’re capable of doing. It’s a huge accomplishment.”
And while his personal accomplishment of competing in a Paralympic final was a big deal to Rigo, it was his competitors that left the biggest impression, providing some inspiration moving forward.
“It was pretty cool just to meet all the other athletes from all the different countries,” Rigo said. “Meeting all of them was pretty cool and seeing how old they were. Most of them were in their 20s and 30s and meeting all of them and seeing how much longer I could do this and how much I can improve was cool.”
Improvement will be necessary moving forward for Rigo if he wants to accomplish his lifelong goal of competing at the Paralympic Games. He will be competing amongst seven other U.S. T52 classification athletes for a spot in two events (100M, 400M) for the 2016 Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“That would be amazing because I’ve always dreamt of going there ever since I heard about track,” Rigo said. “Worlds were pretty cool, but going to the Paralympic Games and meeting all the other countries, that would be awesome, and the experience to finally be a Paralympian that would be cool.”
“Its tough. It’s going to be really tough,” Skinner said about Rigo’s chances. “But he is one of those kids that if he really, really wants it and he really wants to be top-three in the U.S. and that’s what he is driven to do, then by all means if anyone can pull it off, Isaiah can.”