Andy Macleod: bouncing back

In “Superman“, I looked at Andy Macleod’s background in dirt jumping and downhill before a nasty accident robbed him of a leg in March 2011.

This post is about his amazingly quick return to mobility: on 16 July he was back on his mountain bike* and I met him in a café a couple of weeks ago to find out more. (*83 likes and 40 comments on facebook)

In person, Andy exudes the positivity and enthusiasm I expected. His dreads add to his chilled-out vibe, but he isn’t a dozy hippy- he has a relaxed yet focused attitude: determined not to let his accident and disability hold him back, but also realistic and stoic about it. 19 year old Andy is back on his feet and getting on with life.

I have tentatively asked him about the accident itself (a Subaru hit him at high speed and took his right leg off at the knee), and his subsequent time in hospital, and he is remarkably frank and unabashed about it- of course he doesn’t remember much, for a long period after the accident, but has pieced it all together here with input from his family and can provide some darkly humourous anecdotes.

I was in hospital for 4 weeks mostly in isolation due to MRSA. It’s just as well I have little memory of it, as I didnt enjoy it at all. Mentally i was very bewildered; for example I thought i was in Queensland Australia, and couldnt work out why … and one day I also told a nurse that I lived in a caravan, again something I’ve never done or thought about. I also confused family and friends by saying i really wanted Drench juice and that it was my absolute favourite drink. Someone would run and get some and I’d be over the moon, then the next day everyone would bring me Drench and i would question why they had brought me that because i dont like it at all. This happened a good few occasions and it was a different drink each time and sometimes a food.

He can laugh about all of this now but it was a tough time for his family. Andy showed me the diary written by his mum during his hospitalisation, and although it is peppered with humour, I sensed a nervous anxiety. She looked after him 24/7 and although that did inevitably cause a bit of tension she can certainly be proud of her son. His ‘support network’ of friends, as he calls it were also key:

My family brought me my laptop once I had improved a little, and the messages of support that were left on facebook really cheered me up, if it wasn’t for my amazing friends I would not be who I am, and I definitely would not have got through all this as well as I have.

Andy is completely without shyness and proudly showed off his carbon fibre and titanium prosthetic leg, which has 2 Pestorius-style blades for the foot and a suspension shock in the achilles area. It’s worth a cool £2k and he wears it well. The irony of the materials used in this bit of kit are not lost on us.

He also explained the incredible surgery that was performed to reconstruct part of a lower leg that the prosthesis attaches to. [skip down if you’re squeamish…] Quick-thinking police put the severed leg in ice and from this part of a tibia, calf and heel were used. He showed me how he can articulate it at the knee, and at this point I could see a couple of ladies across the café trying not to look.

I asked him a few light-hearted questions about his bike, a GT I-Drive 7 DH/freeride bike. It was totalled and although he hasn’t seen it, he has been in touch with the investigating officer several times and is determined to get the mangled wreckage back. Another sign of Andy’s desire to be the boss of the accident, rather than let it define him, is the fleck of blue Subaru paint that he found in his hair- another little trophy that he has kept.

Thanks to insurance, he ordered a new bike while still in hospital, a clear indication of his motivation to get back riding:

Need I say how much this cheered me up?! Once I got home it was still going to be a while before I was on my bike, so when it arrived, it sat at the back of the living room as inspiration, in ironic contrast to my retro wheelchair which was parked next to it 🙂

The nurses and doctors were impressed with the speed of Andy’s recovery and he got the prosthetic leg in the middle of May. Maybe it was a combination of good balance from cycling and willpower, but he could walk straight away. It does of course take a long time to build up to wearing the leg all the time, but during Andy’s first steps with the prosthetic (pictured below), he tells me he couldn’t resist a step or two unaided “because I knew I could”.

As you can tell, i was hugely eager to get back on my bike, even flying along wooden forest walk tracks in my wheelchair like i was riding north-shore, which was truely thrilling haha :):) I took any opportunity I could to even walk up to the quarry, even when still on crutches without my prosthetic leg, which was a struggle but i really needed the rewarding feeling of being back in the outdoor environment, and the place where i spent so much time when growing up.

I imagine most people would only get depressed if they dragged themselves up to their old outdoor playground, on crutches, no longer able to ride. But this seems to have simply spurred him on, to get back on two wheels.

Then the day arrived where I was going to get back on my bike. The only change I had to make was being clipped in. [i.e the prosthetic foot] The smile on my face as I finally take the bike out of the house says it all 😀 I wasn’t on for long, but couldnt resist trying some old skills. I attempted trackstanding and managed it, then tried some hopping on the spot- I propped myself against a fence, found my balance, then started hopping, and managed it no problem.

The new machine is a Lapierre Tecnic FS900- an XC full suspension bike. It may be a while longer before Andy is hitting the jumps and downhill singletrack runs again, but he tells me trials is where his heart lies. “I thought I would really struggle with trials biking, as there is a lot of ankle and calf work, and it took me a while to feel confident enough to try it, but I can!” He practices in his back yard, and has to compensate with the upper body- 20 minutes and he’s knackered. “Hopefully once I get back on the trials bike properly I’ll look like Schwarzenegger!” he jokes.

Andy’s positivity is infectious, and he hopes that if anyone else has suffered a major setback like he has, that he can help to inspire people to get moving again. One of his dreams is to carry the Olympic flame in 2012 and I was proud to have helped him gain a few extra ‘likes’ in the Cokezone nomination competition.