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Rigby, Cathy (1952—)

Rigby, Cathy (1952—)

American gymnast. Born on December 12, 1952, in Long Beach, California; daughter of Anita Rigby and Paul Rigby (an aeronautical engineer); married Tommy Mason, in January 1973; married Tom McCoy (a producer); children: Bucky, Ryan, Theresa, and Kaitlin.

Earned highest U.S. scores in gymnastics at Summer Olympics in Mexico City (1968); was the first American woman to win a medal (silver for balance beam) in international gymnastics competition, at World championships (1970); placed first in allaround at the World Cup gymnastics championships (1971); holds 12 international medals, 8 of them gold; studied acting and singing for ten years; made her theatrical debut as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1981); named one of America's Most Influential Women in Sports by ABC-TV's "Wide World of Sports" (1987); named Mother of the Year (1992); with husband, became executive producer of the McCoy-Rigby Series at the La Mirada Theater for the Performing Arts in La Mirada, California (1994); began touring the country and returned to Broadway with Peter Pan (1998), earning a Tony nomination for her performance; toured with Annie Get Your Gun (1999).

Cathy Rigby came into the world two months premature and weighing less than four pounds, but she was destined to leave her mark. With weak lungs that were repeatedly attacked by infection, she spent her first five years in and out of hospitals. But Cathy's mother Anita Rigby , who used crutches as a result of polio, was an inspiration to her five children, and Cathy was soon rollerskating and riding a bike. Enrolled in a trampoline class, she mastered the backflip the first night. In 1963, the 11-year-old joined the Southern California Acrobatic Team, organized by Bud Marquette. Soon she was determined to become a world-class competitor. In 1967, Rigby placed second in her age group at her first national meet in Chicago. A year later, she was a member of the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team and headed for Mexico City. Placing seventh in the balance beam and 16th in allaround scoring, Rigby had the best finish ever achieved by an American gymnast.

Once home, Rigby was determined to do even better in the 1972 Games, spending hours working on innovative jumps, flips and turns. In 1970, with scores of 9.9 and 9.8, she won a silver medal on the balance beam at the World championship games in Lyubliana, Yugoslavia, becoming the first American woman to win a medal in international competition. A year later, she won a gold medal at the Miami World Cup Gymnastics championships, scoring 38.35 out of a possible 40 points and capturing the women's events.

But Rigby's little girl image was beginning to chafe. She was now 19, secretly dating Tommy Mason, trying to maintain her weight of 93 pounds, and tired of pigtails. "I would like to let my hair grow," she complained, "but Bud wouldn't let me…. He doesn't want me to grow up." Years later, she would reveal that she had also been battling anorexia and bulimia for 12 years and had gone into cardiac arrest twice because of it. When Christy Henrich , a 22-year-old American gymnast, died of multiple organ failure after her weight plummeted to 47 pounds in 1994, Rigby burst into tears at the news. "I felt frustrated and angry," she said. "The sport is fertile ground for anorexia." Nadia Comaneci has admitted succumbing to the same eating disorder.

Finding it difficult to concentrate, Rigby paid for lapses with injuries. She was at the top of women's gymnastics in America when she fell and fractured her toe at the U.S. Olympic trials in May 1972. Then, while she was struggling through the floor exercise the following day, the broken toe caused her to injure her ankle, tearing ligaments on a difficult flip combination. Although Rigby had to withdraw from the competition, she was made a member of the Olympic team.

Though few realized it at the time, the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich were a turning point for American gymnasts. Olga Korbut was the star of the Games and Americans were enthralled. The U.S. women's team finished fourth in team competition. This dramatic improvement of the U.S. team, led by Rigby who placed seventh on the balance beam and tenth overall, went almost unnoticed by the press and public who were riveted by Korbut's every leap and vault. Rigby retired from gymnastics in 1973 and opened two gymnastic clubs in Anaheim and Mission Viejo, California. She also went on to a career on the stage, having studied acting and voice for ten years. She has starred in The Wizard of Oz, Paint Your Wagon, Meet Me in St. Louis, and Annie Get Your Gun, and was nominated for a Tony award for her performance in Peter Pan. She and her second husband Tim McCoy are executive producers of the McCoy-Rigby Series at the La Mirada Theater for the Performing Arts in La Mirada, California.

sources:

Hollander, Phyllis. 100 Greatest Women in Sports. NY: Grosset & Dunlap, 1976.

Jacobs, Linda. Cathy Rigby: On the Beam. St. Paul, MN: EMC, 1975.

Sabine, Francene. Women Who Win. NY: Random House, 1975.

Woolum, Janet. Outstanding Women Athletes: Who They Are and How They Influenced Sports in America. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx, 1992.

related media:

Faces of Recovery, an award-winning video on eating disorders, produced by McCoy-Rigby Entertainment.

Karin L. Haag , freelance writer, Athens, Georgia

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