From adversity to triumph, the on-going story of a sporting inspiration

Over the last week or so I have been following the progress of Andy MacLeod in his bid to secure a place in Great Britain’s Paralympic team for the Winter Olympics in Beijing. If he succeeds, it would surely rank as one of the greatest, if not the greatest sporting achievement by an island born athlete.

By Alex O' Henley
Thursday, 27th January 2022, 2:17 pm
Andy (far left of pic) prepares for the start of the men's quarter-final.

For anyone unfamiliar with Andy’s background it is a story of triumph over adversity. In 2011 aged 18, Andy who was born in Stornoway, suffered a horrific injury while cycling to a friend’s barbecue in Fort William. A car travelling at twice the speed limit knocked him 60 metres into the air and left him with life-changing injuries. The driver was later jailed for ten months for dangerous driving and banned from driving for three-and-a-half years.

Andy’s right leg had to be amputated just below the knee and the young student also suffered a traumatic brain injury which affected his concentration, memory and attention span. Speaking later about the injury Andy said: “My leg was amputated on impact with the vehicle and I don’t remember anything about the accident, that whole day or two weeks after,”

Prior to his injury Andy had been a keen mountain biker, but at that moment regaining some mobility far less getting back in the saddle must have seemed a daunting challenge. He spent a month in Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary before the gruelling rehabilitation got underway back at home where he learned to walk again with a prosthetic leg. However, five months later Andy was back on his bike and for good measure climbed Ben Nevis within a year of his amputation.

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He had tried snowboarding a few times as a young student, but it was during a trip to the United States to visit his brother that he started to think about taking up the sport seriously. He read a magazine article about a snowboarder who had a leg amputated above the knee and went on to have a successful career in the sport. It was the encouragement that Andy needed and in 2018 he took part in his first snowboarding competition.

As part of his degree in Adventure Tourism Management he had spent a year with Disability Snowsport UK which was instrumental in introducing him to the GB Para Snowsport team. However, finding a prosthesis which was comfortable and could withstand the rigours of snowboarding was initially a challenge before he eventually he found a clinic in England, Dorset Orthopaedic, which understood his requirements and made him feel comfortable.

Sustained success in the snowboard cross discipline since then has led to further support from UK Sport and the Scottish Institute of Sport which means that Andy can call upon the services of a personal trainer, physiotherapist and nutritionist when required. This backing along with the support of numerous sponsors from his native island have played an important role in getting Andy to the point where he is a serious contender for the GB Paralympic team.

It’s now all about the anxious wait to see whether he’s going to be on that plane to Beijing. Speaking to me earlier this week from Sweden where he’s preparing to take part in two races, Andy told me he feels he’s already done enough to be in the team that will be announced in the next week or so. “I am really excited by the prospect of making it to Beijing and representing Great Britain after working so hard for so long,” he said. “I hope this journey will inspire people to go out and see what they can achieve in life themselves.”

Over a decade on from that awful night which turned his life upside down, Andy’s story is truly inspirational, an example of human endeavour, talent, drive and determination coming together to overcome a serious physical impairment. He is a remarkable individual who deserves every success that comes his way.