The Para Perspective, Training To Be An Instructor As A Disabled RiderSmashing through life hurdles with Andy Macleod

Andrew Manuel


3 years ago in Cycle

 

Running trips all over the world means we meet some amazing folks with wild background stories, you think you have heard it all then BOOM, along comes the next one. On our current NZ snowboard instructor course I had the pleasure of meeting Andrew Macleod, an adaptive snowboard athlete smashing through the hurdles that life has thrown his way. It’s a pretty inspiring story so I want to share it with you as well.

 

The Para Perspective with Andy Macleod

 

TTR: Andy thanks for sharing you story with us, can you tell me a bit about your background?

 

Andy: Sure, I was born in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland but grew up in Stirling. As a kid I was an avid mountain bike rider which helped me fall in love with throwing myself down the sides of mountains, I decided to find a way to keep myself entertained in the winter so I tried snowboarding at Nevis Mountain Resort at home in Scotland. Two days in and I was hooked.

TTR: Stoked you crossed over from bikes. You mentioned that your life got flipped sideways before you were able to get back on a board, can you fill us in on the details?

 

A: At the ripe age of 20 in 2011 I was riding my bike to a friends house when I was hit by a car driving twice the speed limit. My life was literally and figuratively flipped upside down as I bounced of the car, I had suffered a tramatic brain injury affective my concentration, memory and attention span plus my right leg had been severed below the knee. At the time I think I was more devastated that the accident ripped off one of my dreadlocks though!

TTR: Woah, that’s one hell of a scenario change, I cant even begin to comprehend what that must have been like.

 

A: Me neither, to this day I have no memory of the accident.

 

TTR: Can you tell us what was the next step for you?

 

A: Well I was pretty upset about not being able to ride my bike so I had to put lots of time into my recovery. I was in the hospital for about a month before I could start in with a physiotherapist to learn to walk again. That took about 4 months and I still have to put lots of time into physio today but then it was only another month before I was back on the bike so it was all worth it.

 

TTR: That’s a pretty intense process, how to you motivate yourself and what were some of the challenges you had to face?

 

A: The motivation was the easy part, I didn’t want to let someone else’s mistake ruin my fun so I had to get back on my feet as soon as possible. I think the hardest part at first was trying to figure out what I could and couldn’t do with my leg. My brain would try to send signals to my ankle to move but of course there is no ankle anymore. Dealing with the whole phantom limb syndrome was a bit interesting as I though I was getting feelings from parts of my leg that no longer existed. To make it even weirder at the bottom of where my leg finishes there is new skin that never existed before that sends real feelings to the brain that I need to get used to. If I got itchy at the bottom of the leg my brain would think I had an itchy foot.

 

TTR: I don’t even know how you would begin to comprehend those feelings. From there how long until you were back on a board?

 

A: It was only 9 months from injury to the next shred trip, To be honest it didn’t make too much of a difference as I only had two days of riding under my belt. I was pretty much a beginner but since I didn’t really know how to ride with two ankles I was able to adapt quickly, there were no deep set skills I had to re learn.

TTR: Flash forward to the present day and you are here with us in NZ training to be a snowboard instructor. How did you get here and how far do you want to take snowboarding?

 

A: Well I was pretty sure I wanted to get involved and be able to give back to other adaptive riders. I did some volunteer work with Adaptive snow sports UK and was super into it so I decided I wanted to become an adaptive instructor. I did my research and thought the NZ instructor had a pretty legit adaptive program plus my partner is a teacher so it was really easy for us to pack up during the summer at home and come over here for a few months.

 

TTR: Good on you bud, it sounds like you approached the injury the right way, hopefully you can pass your motivation on to others. How has the course been for you?

 

A: It’s been an amazing experience, I love the program and the people I have met. Of course there are going to be extra challenges for me but its all about working out ways around them. The big hurdle for me is not having a right ankle which affects my ability to move from edge to edge. The NZSIA instructor manual talks a lot about using your ankles to help you get over your toe edge while keeping the rest of the body in line. It’s a bit difficult not having an ankle so I need to make the movement happen from the hip instead which moves me out of alignment over my board. My trainer Jesse has been super helpful though, we spend a lot of time working out what the ideal model is and then thinking up ways around it depending on what my lower body is capable of. Its all about finding right balance between using my hip VS keeping it in line.

 

 

TTR: Wild stuff, Jesse has been chatting about how its pretty cool having to think about snowboarding differently after teaching it for so many years. Can you tell us about the prosthetic leg?

 

A: I have a few different legs for different activities, walking, bike riding and 2 different ones for snowboarding I’m trying out. The ankle is basically replaced with what looks like the rear shock on a mountain bike, its adjustable with a pump so you can change the rebound pressure. It works a bit but its pretty much locked out between 80 and 90 degrees, I would love to see some technology allowing more flex in both directions but then its hard to keep it rigid. I think the hardest part is not being able to pull or push on my toes to get the board on edge but we have worked out a technique that lets my hips compensate. Things get a bit sore on the bottom of my knee as I cant use that leg to move vertically to absorb impact, hopefully the next shred leg I get has a vertical shock to absorb landings as well as the current system to allow a bit of ankle movement.

TTR: Just wait until they give you a spring loaded leg for more pop!

 

A: Fingers crossed for that one, hopefully some prosthetic manufactures are reading this.

 

TTR: So what’s next for you after the course?

 

A: Well hopefully I will be successful on the level 1 exam but after that teaching will go on hold for a while as I will be working on my own riding. I have the opportunity to train with the UK para snowboard team to get ready for some snowboard cross events this winter. I’m working on the goal of heading to Bejing in 2022 for the Winter Paralympics. I’m heading out to Austria early season for a training camp then I will be on the road through Europe all winter to gain experience competing in the able bodies category and in between all the events I will be training 5 days a week with the team.

TTR: That’s pretty epic Andy, we cant wait to see how far you can take this. Make sure you keep us in the loop on how things go, good luck my friend.

 

 

We are pretty stoked to be able to say that by the time you read this the level 1 exam is done and dusted and our boy Andy has smashed it! We are definitely going to hit Andy up for regular updates so make sure you check in on our social media to see where he ends up!