Long Beach International City Bank Marathon
By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer
September 25, 2012 - Ariel Rigney has a passion for wheelchair and amputee sports. That’s because Rigney is an athlete who understands the challenges amputees like her come across in performing mainstream sports.
About five years ago, Rigney was involved in a car accident and lost her right leg. From then on, her perception of sport changed. “Sport is very equalizing,” she said. “It’s something that everyone can participate in and it gives people confidence and something to work toward.”
Rigney is driven by the use of sports as a means to rehabilitate and recover from major injuries. While Rigney is currently limited to running 5K events, her preference when it comes to sports is to perform for health, not competition. She enjoys being active through scuba diving, hiking, running and biking.
In her pursuit for a wheelchair sport event to become a part of, Rigney was introduced to the volunteer organization 26.2 Club with the Long Beach International City Bank Marathon. “I was inspired to join because I really wanted to get involved in the wheelchair division of the marathon,” she said.
Over the past three years of her club membership, Rigney has worked with 15 to 20 athletes each year. The wheelchair division of the race is a qualifying race for events elsewhere, and there is a cash prize for the winner in this division – just as there is for marathon winners.
“This is a service they didn’t have before, or they didn’t have anyone in that position, so it’s new,” Rigney said. “What I do is actually athlete management, so I work directly with the athletes. . . . I know some of the athletes outside of the race, and it helps that I’ve been with the club for a few years now. They know they can come to me with their questions, because a lot of times they are left to fend for themselves, to figure out where they can park, how to get to the starting line and where the curb cuts are – all of the things they have to worry about that your average runner wouldn’t.”
Some of her experiences working with wheelchair athletes at the marathon include interactions with disabled military veterans of all ages. “People who have recently been injured mix with those who have been injured for years. It’s kind of a mentor program,” Rigney said. “I remember last year the race day was the anniversary of one of the athletes’ injury date of being paralyzed. That’s powerful stuff; you can’t make that up.”
Over the past two years, Rigney has noticed more people being brought in by volunteers to learn more about getting involved in volunteering and the 26.2 Club. “I think it’s important that new people are able to learn from those veterans who have been doing this forever,” she said. “It’s like second nature to these guys. They just run it like a machine. They are bringing in new people to learn the ropes so that it is sustainable. That’s key. The more people know about the club, the more people can come in and help improve the marathon and make it better.”
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