The Limbless Association interview Andy Lewis - Our Paratriathlete who won Gold at Rio 2016
Against the stunning backdrop of Rio's Copacabana, on 10 September Andy Lewis made history by winning Gold in the first-ever triathlon at the Paralympic Games.
The gruelling paratriathlon saw athletes compete across 750m swimming, 20km cycling and 5km running stages, so the speed and resilience he had built up during the past year of training were vital to his success. The lead-up to the Games was relentless for Andy, who is a through-the-knee amputee. He has spent much of the past year training full time at Loughborough Triathlon Performance Centre. Sessions take place two to three times each day.
“I start at 7am, swimming for 1.5 hours in the pool. Then I recover for an hour or two – recovery is very important to athletes,” he says. In the afternoon, he’ll cycle or do strength and conditioning sessions in the gym. To avoid problems with his stump, Andy only runs once a week. “If I run on it too often it develops blisters and sores,” he says. “It’s the same for most paratriathletes.” Using a wheelchair is part of his training, helping muscles to recover in between sessions. He doesn’t wear a prosthesis for swimming, uses a standard NHS prosthesis for cycling and an Ottobock 3s80 blade for running.
Pictured above - Andy Lewis and Fieldfisher Partner, Mark Bowman
Andy is used to overcoming challenges in his life. After leaving school in 1999, he was accepted to join the elite British Parachute Regiment. Three days before starting his training, he had a motorcycle accident that left him in hospital for over four months. Over the next six years he battled with problems with his leg and in 2005 took the brave decision to undergo an amputation. “Once my leg was amputated I went downhill,” he admits. “I was left wondering if I had made the right decision. I used to sit in my room getting upset as I watched the troops on TV. I wanted to join them, particularly my brother who was in Iraq. My mum would try to explain that things in life happen for a reason. I decided that the only way my situation would change was if I made it happen. No-one was going to do it for me.”
“My children Jazmin and Logan keep me motivated. I want to show them that if you put your mind to something, you can achieve it”
Inspired back into sport
Andy had always been sporty and represented Gloucestershire in cross-country events before his accident. Seven years after his leg was amputated, he was inspired watching the London 2012 Paralympics. “I remember watching sprinter Johnny Peacock win Gold. I heard that he took only five years to make it to the Paralympics. I thought, if he can do it, so can I.”
Incredibly, Andy hadn’t competed in a triathlon until 2014. He was talent-spotted running at Stoke Mandeville Sports Stadium by Artic One Foundation, a charity that gives opportunities to able-bodied and disabled people to get involved in sport. The foundation offers grants to athletes and puts on ‘Tri Days’, which let athletes learn the basics of triathlon and try out the different aspects of the sport.
Andy says that initially he wasn’t a strong swimmer or cyclist. “I told the scouts from Arctic One that I couldn’t swim; they took me to a pool, watched me swim and then put me on a training programme. I couldn’t even ride a bike for more than a couple of miles, so I had to train every evening.”
His natural talent shone through, however, and in April 2014 Andy came third in his first triathlon: “Even I couldn’t believe it – I initially thought I’d come fourth,” he says. The successes kept on coming and by the end of the season he achieved a gold medal at the Madrid ITU World Para-triathlon Event. He racked up his first European Championship gold medal at the 2016 European Championships in Geneva, and in July of this year he won gold at the 2016 ITU Para- Triathlon World Championships in Rotterdam.
Watch Andy tell his story to the Fieldfisher team
Andy – who lives in Gloucestershire when he’s not training – is married to Becky and has two young children, Jazmin and Logan, who says are his main motivation. “They keep me going. I want to show them that if you put your mind to something, you can achieve it,” he says. “My determination to succeed got me here. It can be hard to go outside and start cycling when it’s raining, but once you’re out there you realise that it’s worth it.” Now that the Olympic and Paralympic torch has passed to Tokyo, Andy is planning to return to his day job working in procurement at aircraft manufacturing company Airbus. He also hopes to inspire young people: “I’m working with Arctic One at the moment, helping them to recruit more kids into sport.” And he has some advice for any budding Paralympians out there: “Don’t be afraid to try new things,” he says. “Whether it’s a new sport or a new prosthesis, you have to give it a go. Don’t ever give up. I hit a brick wall, I had to learn a new sport – and I won Gold at the Rio Paralympic Games.”
This content was first published in the "Step Forward" Magazine Autumn 2016. Special thanks to the following for allowing Fieldfisher to use this content:
- Limbless Association
- Marianne Rawlins, Chief Sub Editor
- James Pembroke Publishing
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