In 2001, I crashed my motorbike near Tower Bridge and smashed up my lower left leg. Despite14 operations, it got more and more painful over the years. My mobility reduced and my world felt like it was getting smaller. I work as a hairdresser, and you can’t do that job when you’re basically high on painkillers all the time. When doctors gave me the option of amputation last February, I can’t tell you how happy I was: it felt like finally taking back control.
Before my amputation, I’d got into anti-gravity yoga, where you use a hammock as support. By luck, the only place in London that taught it was minutes from my home in Old Street, and that same studio also taught pole. I was fascinated with pole and the tricks people could do, but I always assumed my leg would prevent me from giving it a go. Then a girl turned up who had part of her arm missing due to a birth defect. I thought: If she can do it, so can I.
'Amputation felt like taking back control’
My first pole class was really difficult. It takes time to develop grip-strength so that you don’t slide down the pole. But I quickly got hooked. Straight after one class, I’d book the next, even though my hands were covered in blisters. I loved learning the tricks: my favourite is a genie-to-handspin-backflip, which is as complicated as it sounds!
My amputation didn’t stop my progress: 11 days after the operation, I was back in the studio. I did lose a bit of confidence: talking myself into doing a backflip off the pole was difficult, as my brain was trying so hard to protect me from risk. But it’s amazing how quickly you adapt.
This October, at the International Pole Sports Federation World Championships, I entered one of the parapole categories. Building a competition routine is complicated: you have a 150-page manual listing the tricks that are allowed. When the judges gave my score, I broke down: I had won gold in my category. It was the culmination of 18 months of physiotherapy and lots of worries. It meant even more when I was named IPSF male athlete of the year, up against able-bodied contestants. I want disabled people to believe they can compete against anyone.
‘I don’t ever look back at the accident and wish I hadn’t got on the bike that night’
Most of the time I wear a prosthetic, though I prefer to pole without it. Daily life isn’t always easy: the number of tube stations where you can get from the train to the street without having to go up some stairs is stupidly small. But it feels like my world is getting larger again.
I’m going to keep competing on the international stage, while continuing with the day job. I’ve also started modelling, appeared in a photographic series about altered bodies and worked with Alternative Limb Project to create a prosthetic specifically for pole work.
My injury has shaped my life, but I don’t ever look back at the accident and wish I hadn’t got on the bike that night. I love my life right now. I’m at peace with everything.
Follow Andrew on Instagram @tattoo_pole_boy.
For more unique London voices, sign up here to get Time Out features straight to your inbox.