“There are a lot of things I can’t change,” says Ariel Rigney. “There’s nothing I can do on a personal level to make any significant impact on climate change, for example. So it’s really easy to feel powerless.”
But powerlessness is learned—and it can be unlearned. That became clear to Rigney when she lost her leg 15 years ago in a car accident and faced the daunting task of reimagining her life. She’s developed the habit of breaking down overwhelming challenges into manageable steps that, over time, can add up to big achievements.
That’s the principle Rigney is applying to her current test: climbing the 19,347-foot summit of Cotopaxi as a member of the Range of Motion Project (ROMP) Elite Team.
“I’m really nervous about my ability to get there,” she laughs. “I don’t consider myself an elite athlete at all. I have asthma. I have some knee injuries. I’ve never done anything at an altitude even remotely approaching this.”
Like all the amputees on ROMP’s Elite Team, Rigney is making the ascent to raise money for amputees who lack access to prosthetic devices and care. That’s a mountainous problem in and of itself, as an estimated 95 percent of the world’s amputees are unable to obtain prosthetic limbs of any kind. “They’re not just in the lower class of society,” says Rigney. “They’re a forgotten class. In most cases they can’t work, they can’t socialize, they can’t have families. They may not even be able to get to the shower.”
The Cotopaxi climb provides Rigney—and every donor who supports the Elite Team—with a way to take action and make a meaningful impact, one small step at a time. With every foot of altitude she gains toward the summit, she’s accruing funds that can change people’s lives.
“There’s an amputee somewhere right now who’s stuck in their bed because they don’t have a leg,” Rigney says. “All they want to do is make a cup of coffee and carry it to the kitchen table, but they can’t. If there’s something I can do to make that possible for one person, that’s more power than I could imagine wielding almost anywhere else in my life.”
Initiated in 2015, the Cotopaxi climb is ROMP’s biggest annual fundraiser, generating about $100,000 in donations every year. Last year’s event had to be postponed because of COVID, making the 2021 Cotopaxi climb especially important—and reminding all that mobility can never be taken for granted.
Rigney knows firsthand that physical activity can have a profound impact on a person’s recovery from limb loss. That’s why she’s not backing down from the challenge, however steep it might appear. “It might feel useless to throw a $5 donation at this overwhelming problem,” she says. “But that’s not how I look at it. I can’t change the whole world, but I can change one person’s life. To me, that means it’s worth it.”
To throw your support behind Rigney, make a contribution at her fundraising page. Or you can support Elite Team as a whole by visiting the Climbing for ROMP online donation portal.
More articles about the ROMP Elite Team
Caitlin Conner Rocks the Rex Factor, September 16, 2020
Colton Carlson Hates Shortcuts, September 23, 2020
A Potent New Pairing for Team Amputee, February 17, 2021
Climbing Cotopaxi With ROMP, May 20, 2020