“When I first went to university, everyone was a snowboarder or a skier, and I was so excited to get involved. I picked up a snowboard in my first year and felt like a natural” says Andy Macleod as he looks back to the moment he caught the winter sports bug. Sadly, just months after his first experience on the slopes, Andy was the victim of a road accident that led to the loss of his right leg below the knee. Almost seven years after the crash, Andy has made extraordinary progress and is training to become a Paralympic snowboarder.
Andy was born in Stornoway, a town on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland and grew up in Stirling. An active and energetic child, Andy’s passion for outdoor sports led him to university in Fort William, where he studied a degree in Adventure Tourism Management. During his first year in 2011 when he was just 18 years old, Andy was cycling on a residential road and heading to a friend’s house when he was hit by a speeding car. “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,” says Andy. In addition to the devastating loss of his leg, he also suffered a traumatic brain injury that affected his concentration, memory and attention span.
He spent almost a month in hospital, followed by six months living at home where he received rehabilitation for his brain injury and learned to walk again with a prosthetic leg. Throughout the period following the accident, Andy was supported by a legal team from Watermans Claims and Care, including a Case Manager who suggested that he should visit Dorset Orthopaedic for a consultation. After meeting with Clinic Manager Moose Baxter, Andy learned more about the state-of-the-art prosthetic solutions available via Dorset Orthopaedic, and was impressed by the welcoming atmosphere. “He seemed to understand my needs,” says Andy when describing his initial meetings with Moose, “I liked the general feeling of Dorset Orthopaedic. They cared about me as an individual and they never lost sight of my hopes for a positive outcome. I had previously gone to another prosthetics clinic where they didn’t really listen to the specifics of what I wanted. In the end, I had to make do with what I had simply for convenience, even though it worked to a much lower level than the prosthesis I have now.”
Despite the barriers caused by his injuries, Andy was keen to make the most of his new prosthetic limb and get back to the active lifestyle he had enjoyed before his accident. He began to participate in sports again, including off-road cycling and hiking. He even climbed Ben Nevis wearing a prosthetic foot within a year of his amputation. After reading a magazine feature about an amputee snowboarder, Andy set his mind on the goal of getting back onto a snowboard. He explains, “What happened to me was so unexpected that I didn’t know what I could or couldn’t do. The only way I could find out was by trying.” Before he even returned to the slopes, Andy bought the perfect snowboard for him, with a Bob Marley inspired design.
Along with his day-to-day limb, Dorset Orthopaedic provided Andy with the high-performing ski and snowboard prosthesis, the Ottobock ProCarve, to support his snowboarding ambitions. The ProCarve is equipped with a pneumatic spring and a large air filled cylinder at the ankle joint which acts as a shock absorber. This increases the rider’s comfort and also contributes to a better body position whilst boarding. The air pressure inside the cylinder can be tailored to suit the individual’s riding style and type of terrain. Andy explains, “When you’re snowboarding it’s good to have the ability to fine-tune your prosthesis, I can adjust how much the foot compresses and rebounds. That’s very handy. Because I am riding at such a high level I can adapt it to what I will be riding, for example if I am riding jumps, rails and boxes then I can reduce the compression in the foot and take impact better without throwing off the angle of the board. On the other hand when I am doing speed practice and put a lot of pressure onto the toe area then I can increase the compression so it doesn’t give as easily.”
Andy not only returned to winter sports, he also went back to his university course a year after his accident and graduated in 2015. As part of his education, Andy undertook a year’s work programme with Disability Snowsport UK, where he was introduced to the GB Para Snowsport team. Following an evaluation, Andy was successful in qualifying for the home nations’ academy in the sport of Snowboard Cross Racing. Along with his sporting success, he has become a well-known figure within the small community of his island hometown. He has received support and sponsorship from a variety of local companies including clothing manufacturers Rarebird and Harris Tweed Hebrides, who help to keep him warm on the slopes and Charles MacLeod butchers who funded his practice race snowboard.
Andy is currently located in Austria on a six month training camp, with competitions coming up in early 2018. Due to the nature of the training, with the current Paralympic team preparing for the PyeongChang games, Andy is training with able-bodied snowboarders. He says, “When I realise that I am competing at this level against able bodied athletes, I realise that I am absolutely on the right track.” Andy hopes that his determined attitude and talent for snowboarding will take him to the ultimate level for an athlete in this sport: the winter Paralympics, with the 2022 games in Beijing firmly in his sights.
Follow Andy's adventures on his website: https://www.adventureandy.co.uk/