By Thomas Becker
Much like how Sylvia Sweeney used basketball as a platform to do good in this world, so too has Kiera Rigby.
The 22-year-old senior has already accomplished so much and the exciting part is she's just getting started.
"Kiera is one of the most spirited, thoughtful and caring people I know. Her athletic achievements and academic achievements speak for themselves," said UPEI's athletic director, Chris Huggan. "What really stands out is her genuine interest in helping others, volunteering and building community. She is generous with her time, exceptional with kids and is rarely (maybe never) seen without a smile on her face. She's a terrific role model and an exceptional Panther."
But her path to success hasn't been an easy one and probably would've derailed even the best of us.
Rigby almost lost her entire high school basketball career to a series of debilitating leg injuries, including two ACL tears and a fractured tibia, in a span of three years.
However, those leg injuries may have been a blessing in disguise. Without them, she may have never crossed paths with former UPEI trainer, Ralph Manning, who not only helped her overcome major injuries, but also acted as her mentor and friend since she was 15.
Rigby's perseverance and determination eventually paved a way back to the basketball court after committing to UPEI in 2013-14. In her first two seasons, she averaged 4.6 points per game as a role player coming off the bench.
Manning and Rigby met almost daily, something they both came to appreciate. Their friendly routine not only strengthened her body, but their conversations also enlightened her soul. Manning knew she was a great basketball player, but he saw something more. He helped her understand sports alone didn't define who she is and that she has so much more to offer this world.
Those words still resonate with her to this day and will never be forgotten. In the fall of 2015, Manning unexpectedly passed away of a heart attack. What was once a bonding session between two like-minded people was suddenly gone and left an irreplaceable void in her life.
In his memory, she used his words of encouragement and optimism to push her the following three seasons, where she flourished in a starting role. The co-captain led her team to the AUS Finals and averaged a career-high 18.4 points per game (with all three shooting percentages ranking in the top 10). She also earned UPEI's Athlete of the Week honours three times and the AUS honour once, making a strong case as the league's MVP.
"Kiera is one of the best female athletes I've had the pleasure of coaching," said Panthers head coach Greg Gould. "Kiera is a born leader. She cares for everyone she comes in contact with, and that caring and supportive personality makes people want to follow her. Kiera always has time to uplift and support those around her. It's amazing to watch how people of all ages are drawn to her magnetic personality."
While basketball connected them, Manning's influence on Rigby transcended the sport. He helped her realize her full potential as a student studying biology and as an active community member willing to help those in need.
Manning would be proud to see how far she's come. To honour him and other loved ones, Rigby has volunteered countless hours to several charitable causes that all have great personal meaning to her.
Her interest in biology led her to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (physical medicine and emergency departments), where she has volunteered over 80 hours since June.
"Kiera is a dedicated, personable, sincere, compassionate and caring young woman who has always shown respect of others and discretion and sensitivity to the patients in our hospital. She is genuinely interested in giving of her time and skills to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital," said Janice Morrison, Manager of Volunteer Services with the QEH.
Rigby is also the External Communications and Community Outreach Coordinator for the World University Services of Canada (WUSC), where she planned events such as "Glow Night for Shine a Light" to raise money for the Shine a Light campaign that provides girls in refugee camps with tools they need to learn, strive and succeed. She also planned a WUSC themed basketball evening to show support, particularly for 30 UPEI students who were directly affected by the Trump administration's immigration policies in 2017.
"Since UPEI's goal is to help students become thoughtful, productive citizens on a local and global scale, I'd say that's definitely something Kiera embodies," said WUSC President, Katie Vanleeuwen. "She has put so much effort into local, national and international causes. I don't think it's even possible to describe how much of an impact she has had, and will continue to have."
If that wasn't enough, Rigby found the time to take part in the Relay for Life (Canadian Cancer Society) and Run for the Cure fundraisers for the past six years. Last year, she helped raise over $2,000 for the 10th annual Shoot for the Cure and donated 11 inches of hair to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths program. In 2018, she once again helped plan the Shoot for the Cure/Pink in the Rink fundraiser.
She's also an Arthritis Society volunteer, a three-year member of the UPEI Varsity Leadership team, a tutor with Student Services and an active member of the UPEI Biology Society and UPEI Pre-Med Society. She even helped plan an Alzheimer's themed basketball event that raised over $900.
"If I had to pick one word to describe Kiera it would be invested. Whether it's a friendship, an event, or a cause, the way she invests herself comes across and you can tell she genuinely cares," said Vanleeuwen.
Rigby's balancing act doesn't end there and extends academically as well, where she has an outstanding 3.9 cumulative grade point average. The four-time Academic All- Canadian (soon to be five) made the Dean's List four times and graduated in May with a major in biology and a minor in biomedical physics.
Her interest in the way the body moves was sparked by Manning as she continues to work toward a career in physiotherapy, much like her late friend did.
Rigby is currently doing her honours research in Dr. Adam Johnston's exercise physiology lab, examining Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. She intends on continuing her schooling afterwards and has applied to several programs across Canada specializing in physiotherapy, including McMaster, University of Toronto and Dalhousie. She's also preparing for an interview for a four-year program at the Canadian Chiropractic College in Toronto.
"Kiera is a great student who has excelled in so many aspects of her academic life. She has not only achieved success in her course work with a high GPA, but has also excelled in her research," said Johnston. "She embodies the UPEI spirit and has balanced these activities with high performance sport and athletic success."
There's no telling what the future has in store for Rigby, but if she continues on this incredible path of humanity, care and dignity, then world will be better for it.