Talented, But Torn
Born in Long Beach, California, to two aerospace specialists, Cathy Rigby was a spirited child who turned first to ballet to channel her energy. At age nine she discovered gymnastics—still a relatively low-profile activity in the early 1960s. Rigby showed early talent at tumbling, but found herself in the midst of a power struggle between her father and her coach. Each man wanted to direct the child's talent, but fate intervened when Rigby's father, Paul, an alcoholic, lost his job. "Life was hell for a long time," Rigby recalled in a People interview with Mark Goodman. "Gymnastics was a way to be away from home, but it too had its problems."
Chief among those problems was the issue of Rigby's weight. Though decidedly on the petite size—she stood four-foot-eleven—the teenager was informed that her ideal weight was not to exceed 89 pounds, far less than her normal weight. At first Rigby attempted to control her size through diet. "Sometimes I ate only one meal a day, even though I was practicing eight hours a day and needed food to be strong" she noted in a cautionary article she wrote for Sports Illustrated for Kids. "Sometimes
I didn't eat for a week and drank only apple juice. I often felt tired and dizzy. Sometimes I felt so weak, I fainted. But I lost weight."
At sixteen a maturing Rigby gained ten pounds. Weighing in at 105, the gymnast felt, she told Goodman, that "my identity was threatened." A bout with anorexia (curtailing eating) led to a case of bulimia (purging food before digestion). It was the beginning of a vicious cycle that lasted more than a decade. At her lowest point, Rigby weighed only 79 pounds and was hospitalized twice with coronary episodes.