Losing a leg and suffering a brain injury couldn’t stop MacLeod from chasing success on the slopes
WHAT bike was I on?’ Andy MacLeod asked the nurse, perhaps offering a little insight into the psyche of this remarkable young man. Still only 18, the self-confessed adrenaline junkie had just found out he had lost his right leg below the knee and suffered a brain injury after being knocked off the road by a car five days before.
It was March 7, 2011, and MacLeod was nearing the end of his first year as a student when it happened. Studying Adventure Tourism Management at the University of the Highlands and Islands had allowed him to continue his passion for outdoor sports.
MacLeod, from Lewis, was on his way to see some friends before going to a barbecue in Fort William — for the record, he was on a mountain bike he used for competitions — only to ‘wake up in hospital without a leg’. An itch on his right foot that he couldn’t scratch simply confused matters.
‘The last thing I remember is from the Friday night — and the accident was on the Monday night at around 9pm,’ says MacLeod.
He was in hospital for just under a month. Left in a confused state, his mother, Christine Jaffray, kept a diary of her son’s progress.
‘It’s kind of funny to look back on now as there was just some random stuff that I was coming out with,’ he admits.
At varying times, MacLeod was adamant that he lived in a caravan and was also convinced he was in Queensland, Australia, despite neither being the case.
And yet, despite his ordeal, he never once contemplated not being able to do sport again.
‘I don’t remember anything about my accident at all but there was one thing that I remember,’ he says. ‘The plastic surgeon who worked on me came into the hospital bedroom and said: “Do me a favour and send me a picture when you’re up and walking again”.
‘I said: “I’ll send you one better of me back on my bike”.
‘I never accepted that I wasn’t going to get back to my sports. I didn’t entertain the thought. A lot of my outlook on it all has been I don’t know what I’m going to be capable of until I try.’
Just two days before the accident, MacLeod had started snowboarding and it was the thought of getting back to the sport that spurred him on.
Now, six years on, he will represent Team GB as an ablebodied snowboarder at the Federation Internationale de Ski Snowboard Cross Championships in December and the Europa Cup competitions that follow.
If he gains enough points in those competitions, he can take part in the World Championships and then could progress to the Olympics or Paralympics, although he will miss next year’s Games in South Korea.
It is just the beginning of what he hopes will be a successful career as an athlete.
‘It was something I had always wanted to try but I didn’t know anybody that did it,’ he says of snowboarding. ‘I didn’t know anything about the sport, how to get into it or anything,’ says MacLeod. ‘But then I went to university and everybody on the course was either a skier or a snowboarder, so I was able to try it then.
‘I loved it and picked it up really quickly as well.
‘I tried skateboarding as a teenager but it just wasn’t for me because the board wasn’t attached to my feet. It didn’t do what I told it to do!
‘But with snowboarding, it’s attached to your feet, so it kind of does what you want it to do.’
MacLeod’s optimism and determination was demonstrated by the speed with which he got back to walking and then taking part in sport.
It took him around three-and-ahalf months to get back to walking with his prosthetic leg. Within just five months, he was cycling and, in December of the same year, he was back snowboarding.
‘I read an article in an American sports magazine about an abovethe-knee amputee who could still snowboard and by that point I was already back on my bike so I bought myself a new board before I even knew I could snowboard again,’ adds the 25-year-old.
‘Then I just went for it and picked it up.’
MacLeod has competed in just one event so far, a fundraising slalom race in Braehead for Disability Snowsport UK in May 2014, where he won but was the only snowboarder competing.
He graduated exactly five years after starting his BA because of the accident and insists his plans have not altered too much since the collision, but have just ‘got a very different spin’.
MacLeod first met the paraathlete coach Si Nicholson in December 2016 but his court case was still ongoing, so he was unable to join up with the team in time for the 2018 Paralympic Games.
‘I’m a bit sad that I didn’t join early enough to go for that but it gives me more time,’ he says.
‘I’m looking forward to racing in able-bodied categories, because that’s what I’ve always done.
‘If I can compare myself to them and can compete with them then I’m definitely doing well.’
The court case ended in March, six years to the day of his accident. He received compensation with the help of his solicitors, Watermans, who are also going to back him by purchasing a racing snowboard.
MacLeod, who has climbed Ben Nevis, carried the London 2012 Olympic torch and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games torch, and was then selected for Team GB in May.
His long-term aim is to be part of Team GB for the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games in Beijing but if he gets into the top 30 rankings in the able-bodied category, he would qualify in that class.
‘I don’t know if there would be regulations against me competing because some people might see having a snowboard-specific prosthetic leg as being beneficial,’ he says. ‘There’s nothing to compare to having your own ankle.
‘However, it’s incredible just to have these opportunities.
‘I never dreamed that I would get to this level in snowboarding.’
Throughout Andy’s case, he was supported by solicitors Watermans Accident Claims and Care. The legal firm is set to continue that support by providing Andy with a brand new snowboard for his training camp and competitions over the coming months. For more information, see watermans.co.uk.
Board games: MacLeod is thriving in his chosen sport and climbed Ben Nevis in 2013 (inset)