By: Ryan Levine
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Not many freshmen begin college knowing what they want to do with their life. Most of them step on campus with their major undeclared, having to take several general education courses. Madison Rigdon is not like most freshmen.
What began as a fun night with friends almost stole her future. While climbing a fence during her junior year of high school, the 6-foot volleyball player sliced her hand open and was near centimeters from causing nerve damage in her hitting hand, which could have ended her career.
After sitting on the sidelines for nearly two months and watching her teammates play the sport she loved, Rigdon turned the potential life-changing situation into an actual life change. During her recovery, she decided that she wanted to be a physical therapist.
“Going through physical therapy and having injuries made me realize what I want to be doing when I’m older,” Rigdon said.
Injuries are not the first challenges she overcame. At five years old, Rigdon started gymnastics, something that she continued to pursue for the rest of her childhood.
She became a successful gymnast, winning the Capital Gymnastics' All-Around Gymnast of the Year in fourth and fifth grade. When her love for the sport started to die, Rigdon knew telling her mom would be challenging.
“My mom loved gymnastics also and I felt like I was breaking her heart when I quit,” Rigdon said.
However, at 18 years old, Rigdon already knows how to turn life’s challenges into positives. Despite feeling a sense of disappointing her mom, the love and support Rigdon receives from both of her parents remains insurmountable.
Most parents who have kids in college like to talk to their kids on the phone to see how they are doing. Rigdon’s parents do one better. They see their daughter in person.
So far this season, the Jayhawks have hosted matches five times in the Horejsi Family Athletics Center on weekends. Her parents, Ronnie and Debbie, make the trip to every one of those weekend matches. They take the 11-hour, 700-mile drive from Pflugerville, Texas to see their daughter play the sport she has great passion for.
“I know they have a lot on their plate and it means a lot that they come to support me, even if it’s just for one match,” Rigdon said with a smile on her face.
As a former gymnast, Rigdon learned early on in her life about the discipline it takes to get perfect scores, a philosophy she has applied to volleyball. The work ethic she acquired at a young age on how to be perfect was the biggest aspect that she took from the balance beam to help her transition onto the volleyball court.
One of Rigdon’s first experiences with the University of Kansas occurred with current teammate Tayler Soucie at one of Kansas’s summer volleyball camp, during Rigdon’s sophomore of high school. The two girls roomed together and instantly bonded.
They became great friends, as Soucie gave Rigdon insight on not just volleyball, but college in its entirety. Yet, facing the challenge of choosing a college was something Rigdon turned into a positive.
Rigdon’s mom believes Soucie played a big role in Rigdon’s decision to choose Kansas. According to her, as a parent, it is reassuring to know that her daughter is in good hands.
“Madison’s exact words after (the camp) were ‘I feel like I have known Tayler my entire life,’” Debbie Rigdon. “It’s comforting to know that she’s got a family there that will look out for her and support her.”
Wanting to see her daughter partake in what has the potential to be some of the most historic years for the Jayhawks’ volleyball program is something Rigdon’s parents do not want to miss.
The expectations have been set, being part of the 15th-best recruiting class in the nation. As one of seven newcomers who are looking to lead Kansas to their third NCAA Tournament appearance in as many years, Rigdon feels that with such a young team, the Jayhawks are a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming years.
“We’re all bonding so well now as a team that by the time we’re seniors, we’ll be flowing together and know what everyone’s abilities are and what strengths and weaknesses they have,” Rigdon said confidently.
Nonetheless, Rigdon is no stranger to building strong relationships. When her high school coach Jeff Coward saw her play for the first time in middle school, he knew the two-time all-state player would be the best volleyball player in Pflugerville High School history.
By her sophomore year, Kansas and other schools started recruiting Rigdon. After learning about her injury a year later, KU’s coaches expressed their concern towards her hand, but her talent and determination countered those concerns.
Rigdon’s stardom became more of an everyday occurrence, but she never let the attention get the best of her. She kept the humbled personality she has today, and never abused her role while in the spotlight, a mannerism that Coward can attest to.
“You can go on-and-on about the accolades she has on the court, but they really are just a shadow of what kind of person she is,” Coward said.
Her upbeat persona and encouraging attitude is a trait she not only displays around her peers, but more importantly shares with younger generations. Rigdon knows being an NCAA Division I athlete is a high-profile responsibility and does what she can to embrace it.
After matches, she is often found signing autographs and interacting with aspiring volleyball players. The positive impact Rigdon leaves on their lives makes her appreciate what she does even more, seeing how happy the kids are.
“A lot of people don’t get this kind of opportunity. Representing Kansas is an important part of being a Division I athlete,” Rigdon said.
The maturity beyond her years is as impressive as her ability to turn a challenge into an opportunity. An injury nearly ended her volleyball career, while her dedication to gymnastics almost kept it from beginning. Nope, Madison Rigdon is not like most freshmen.