Billy Brimblecom was sky high at the conclusion of last November’s ThunderGong! The annual benefit show raked in nearly $600,000 for Brimblecom’s Steps of Faith Foundation, a record-shattering haul to support prosthetic care for uninsured and underinsured amputees.
But reality smacked him in the face two days later, when he dropped by the theater to wrap up business. One more thing, the house manager said. What’s the plan for getting this nine-foot-tall prosthetic leg out of our lobby?
“In the blur of a million details, that hadn’t even occurred to me until I got there Monday morning,” says Brimblecom, referring to the iconic sculpture that was part of the preshow festivities. “I called my dad, who’s a lot more handy than I am, and he came down and got on the phone with Mike, so he could explain how to take this huge thing apart.”
That would be Mike Riggs, the master fabricator who designed and built the Kong-scaled prosthesis. A steadfast Steps of Faith supporter who’s never missed a ThunderGong! show, Riggs had approached Brimblecom and offered to construct some sort of eye-grabbing exhibit to welcome back in-person attendees. (The ’20 and ’21 ThunderGongs were held virtually because of the pandemic.)
“We were thinking about making a caricature of [ThunderGong! host] Jason Sudeikis that people could take selfies with,” says Riggs. “But Billy’s staff wanted something that wasn’t specific to this event, so they could use it at other fundraisers. Somebody suggested a giant leg, and I thought: Of course! That’s where we should have started.”
Brimblecom sent over some photos of his own prosthesis, and Riggs got to work. Sudeikis and Brimblecom both love sneakers, so Riggs fashioned a Nike Air Force 1 out of layered, laser-cut wood. He built the pylon from four-inch steel pipe, encased it in a six-inch PVC pipe, then layered on more wood for the knee interface. The knee and shock absorber are a glorious hodgepodge of plasma-cut steel, PVC pipe, a five-gallon bucket, and assorted doodads from the hardware store that just seemed to fit.
“I told him it wasn’t going to be a perfect prosthetic,” Riggs laughs. “It’s going to be a take on a prosthetic.” His vision held up: At ThunderGong!, the iconic object drew a steady stream of selfie-shooting admirers.
“It’s remarkable how the thing turned out,” says Brimblecom. So how did he get the installation moved out of the lobby?
“You separate it into two pieces,” explains Riggs. “There are a couple of bolts in the knuckle right below the shock. The top piece is relatively light, but the bottom piece has a steel plate on the bottom. You have to load that onto a dolly.”
Brimblecom coaxed some friends with a truck to drive the sculpture back to his office. “And that’s where it currently sits,” he says. “So now we know how to put it together, and we know how to transport it.” Kansas Citians and heartland tourists will surely be seeing it again at future events, so keep your eyes open (or check Steps of Faith’s Instagram page) next time you’re in the neighborhood.