By Marian Hambrick
In discussing the upcoming cross country season, Coach Gene Weis commented on runner Billy Riggs almost immediately. Riggs is a new graduate assistant at U of L and has one year remaining of NCAA eligibility. He recently graduated from Ball State University where he ran cross country. Riggs will again run on a familiar campus, this time in direct opposition to his former teammates. On September 8th, the Cardinals traveled to Oxford, OH for the Miami Fall Classic. This meet kicked off the 2001 season for both the men and women. “I really want to have a good showing,” Riggs said prior to the meet. “There are people that I want to go back and beat. I’m excited because I have a lot of lifelong friends that I’ll be racing against. There’s an aspect of pride.”
Riggs needed to establish himself with his new Cardinal teammates as well. “To the upperclassmen on this team, I’m just like a freshman,” he said. “I’ve got to prove myself in the workouts and races.
His teammates already like what they see. “He’s brought a different perspective as far as introducing his ways of thinking and taking it to the next level,” senior Mike Horan said. In turn, Riggs believes the team also has a great deal of ability, and he’s interested in seeing that utilized to its fullest in his fellow runners. “I just want to give everything I can to make the cross country program here at U of L a better program,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of talent and potential here.””He’s pretty helpful, coming from a program that’s had some success, showing what they did,” said junior Tim Franxman.
This is in spite of a near career-ending injury in November when Riggs ruptured his Achilles tendon. He’s been through rehabilitation and feels he is almost fully recovered. “I’ve been impressed with his ability to come back from the injury,” said Weis. “That says something about his focus and dedication.”
In addition to being devoted, Riggs would also describe himself as altruistic in nature; wanting to help those around him, to create a familial environment. In terms of cross country, “for us to be successful, we have to run together as a team in a tight knit group and really talk to each other and encourage each other,” he said.
According to his coach and teammates, Riggs abides by that approach. “He’s very concerned about the group as a whole,” Weis said. “He’s very, very much a team player, and he’s made an effort at taking on some leadership responsibilities.”
“He’s very encouraging, very ambitious,” senior Justin Banks agreed. “I’m glad he’s on the team.” Ambitious is a great way to describe this student-athlete who has also achieved a number of non-running accomplishments. Last year, Riggs completed a semester in Oxford, England, studying politics and economics. His undergraduate thesis on the role of contemporary music in the church was published in the Ball State archives. He also plays classical and “pop” guitar and has written and recorded a number of songs.
Riggs is currently pursuing a masters degree in urban planning. His focus is on the promotion of information technology throughout the world, particularly in developing countries. “I want to make sure that people all around the world have equal access to technology and computers,” said Riggs. “One of the big draws of coming here was being able to research under Professor Dave Simpson, researching the different ways that urban planners are integrating virtual reality programs to simulate different environments.”
Eventually, Riggs would like to use his graduate degree on an international level. “There are a lot of things that Americans can do to share the gift that we have.” Helping to strengthen the information technology infrastructure is just one contribution he wants to make. Next summer, he also plans to venture to Venezuela for a couple of months to work on his language skills. “My dad instilled into me that learning is life-long,” Riggs said, “regardless of whether you’re in school or not.”
Both academically and athletically, Riggs is a leading and learning example for others to follow.