Former Gymnast (and Grandma) Cathy Rigby Reprises Peter Pan (Again)

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Wow! Talk about a comeback. Former gymnast Cathy Rigby, who is now unbelievably a grandmother, is back as Peter Pan in the eponymous musical 38 years after she originally donned the green tights. She retired from the role in 2005 after a prior farewell tour but like Yul Bryner in the King and I it seems she was born to play this part. The latest tour is scheduled through Christmas 2011 with final performances at New York's Madison Square Garden. There is a possibility the show may return to Broadway in 2012.

The always petite and youthful looking Rigby had a successful gymnastics career decades ago and was credited with helping popularize the sport in the United States. Her participation in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, as a pig-tailed 15 year-old and highest-scoring U.S. gymnast, made her a favorite with television audiences and an inspiration to young girls in gyms across America. She was the first U.S. gymnast to win a medal in international competition and she captured the silver on balance beam at the 1970 World Championships. Throughout her gymnastics career, she won numerous accolades (including eight gold medals) and went to the Olympics a second time in 1972.

Rigby was barely out of her teens the first time she attached herself to a wire and flew off a stage to do battle with the evil Capt. Hook. After retiring from gymnastics, Rigby joined a Disney-produced arena performance of the James Barrie's children's classic.  Since 1990,  she has starred in the stage version of Peter Pan, making four stops on Broadway and garnering four Tony Award nominations including Best Revival of a Musical and Best Actress in a Musical. Previous productions of Peter Pan starring Rigby have grossed over $200 million dollars in ticket sales. Rigby estimates she has flown to Neverland nearly 3,000 times, surpassing Mary Martin for the greatest number of performances

So how does a 58 year-old former athlete and grandmother of two get ready to play a 10-year-old boy for eight performances a week?

Rigby says she prepared for the role by first hiring a trainer to get in shape. The 4-foot-11-inch Rigby, who has battled bulimia and anorexoria, has changed little from the time she first began playing Peter Pan in 1974. She's still trim and muscular and as a member of the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame, she is not your typical 50-something taking on a physically demanding role.

"It probably played a huge part in me believing that you can do anything — you can, at 58, play Peter Pan," Rigby said. "I've learned that if you work at something to your full potential, there's no reason to believe you can't reach your best full potential. I know that sounds like a big motivational speech, but I really believe that.

In reprising her role, Rigby could look to other champion athletes for motivation — including long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad, who tried to swim 103 miles from Cuba to Miami at age 61 (but was forced to abandoned the effort halfway).
Ultimately, Rigby looked to her mom, a polio survior who never let physical challenges get in her way,  for inspiration.
"I will have to work harder at being the best I can be than someone who's 20 years old. But I'm willing to do that, and the great thing is I have experience on my side and know when to breathe, know when to dance and know when to attack a dance. There's a confidence that comes with age that allows you to be better and more fresh when you do things."
Peter Pan may be the boy who won't grow up — and although he actress who has played him  for 30 years finally has - Rigby has no intention of acting her age.Great news for a whole new generation of children who will now be able to see her flying high in the classic musical.

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