Andy Lewis unsurprisingly battled depression following a motorcycle accident aged just 16 which eventually led him to make the difficult decision to have his right leg amputated.
It wasn’t until he was 22, six years after the accident, that he underwent the life-changing procedure – a through the knee amputation – and then the depression set in as he struggled with the fact his life would never be the same.
Once a promising athlete who had run cross country for his home county of Gloucestershire, Lewis was torn up by the fact he felt he would now no longer compete, or be able to fulfill a life-long dream of joining the British Army’s Parachute Regiment.
But then daughter Jazmin was born in 2007 and Lewis finally found some perspective and began channeling his frustration in a positive way.
He learned how to walk all over again with his new prosthetic leg, returned to Lydney Boxing Club where he’d trained as a kid to give back to local youngsters and eventually raised enough money to get a blade prosthetic so he could return to running.
He even earned his pilot’s license, which gave him the launchpad for a career as an athlete.
Not only did he return to running, just over a decade after losing a limb and fearing he’d never be active again, Lewis became a para-triathlete and won a gold medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.
“In 2007 my daughter was born and it made me realise that someone now was going to rely on me and need my support,” Lewis told Sport360 when asked how he summoned the strength to get over his accident and get his life back on track.
“In 2005 I was suffering from depression, I really didn’t know what was going to happen to me, I was in a really bad way, but my wife was a massive supporter of mine and kept me on track.
“(Jazmin being born), it made me pick myself up, sort myself out, get my fitness back, I wanted to get my life back. I went back to college, got a new job, became a boxing coach, got a running blade and the rest is history.”
Lewis’ then employers, Airbus UK, part-funded his new leg at a total cost of £8,000 (Dh40,763). It changed his life dramatically as he started competing in events, and winning, even registering for England Athletics.
He took up paratriathlon in 2013 and began competing in 2014. In 2016 he won gold at the European Championships and the ITU Para-Triathlon World Championships, while the pinnacle was reached that summer as he won gold in the PT2 category at the 2016 Paralympics, the first Games to include triathlon.
Lewis won in 1 hour 11 minutes and 49 seconds, with a 41-second winning margin to Italy’s Michele Ferrarin in second and Morocco’s Mohamed Lahna in third.
Speaking of his Rio glory, Lewis said: “It’s a difficult one, I was the current World and European champion and was definitely keen to get on the podium.
“My coaches and team were very sure that I could leave Rio with a medal but I suppose I didn’t really expect to win. I had made, as do most athletes, some big sacrifices and wasn’t prepared to go to Rio and come home without anything.
“It made me realise my potential, not just in sport but also in life. It made me feel very proud of my achievements.
“It has raised my profile in the sport somewhat but it hasn’t made a massive difference to my dreams, aspirations and goals. It has made me realise that motivating people, especially children, is something that I really enjoy.”
Lewis and Lahna will be reunited in the UAE next month when both take part in the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi at the capital’s Yas Island from March 2-3.
The paratriathletes will compete on Friday, March 2, with organisers announcing the 2018 global triathlon season-opener will feature dedicated waves for paratriathletes for the very first time.
And Lewis is looking forward to locking horns again with Lahna.
“He has a massive heart and is really dedicated to his family, I know he wants to make them proud and I feel that he shocked quite a few people in Rio,” said Lewis, 35.
“I really hope that he continues to improve and give me and the other PTS2 athletes a battle.”
With paratriathletes debuting at the ITU series opener in Abu Dhabi, Lewis admits it is the race he is most excited about in 2018.
“I am really excited to be coming to Abu Dhabi, it seems a beautiful country and I am really excited about the race, more excited than any other race on my calendar this year,” he said.
“I haven’t been before, I have always watched the race when the World Series has been hosted there and always felt a little bit frustrated that paratriathlon races were not held there. The course looks amazing and to be able to race in such an amazing city with great scenery is fantastic.”
And with Abu Dhabi set for its fourth year of hosting the ITU World Triathlon Series having acted as the first event of the season since 2015, Lewis is elated at it being opened up to disabled athletes.
“Paratriathlon is a growing sport as is triathlon, however it still needs people to believe in it and to put events on to showcase it to the world,” said Lewis.
“The organisers have gone through a lot of trouble to make it accessible for all who participate. I have to thank them personally for that. I am sure the paratriathletes will not feel forgotten about.
“Over the past four years paratriathlon has become very popular, however we do need to get more media coverage and continue to ensure that organisers promote the events and do a build up to the event, help people understand what it’s all about.
“The organisers normally do a great job but being open and asking the participants how they can make it more accessible and successful is key.”
Nine of the world’s top 10 women in triathlon will lead a stellar field of 50 women from 20 countries at the ITU’s World Triathlon Series opener in Abu Dhabi on March 2.
The world-class field, set to tackle a 750-metre swim, 20-km bike and 5-km run over the Yas Island course, will be one of the most competitive women’s line-ups in the event’s history.
The powerful race bills includes defending champion Andrea Hewitt of New Zealand, 2017 ITU World Triathlon Series champion Flora Duffy, Austria’s Sara Vilic who finished third in Abu Dhabi last year, World No2 Ashleigh Gentle of Australia, World No3 Katie Zaferes of the USA, and Great Britain’s Vicky Holland.
The top nine participants boast a total of 61 wins and 171 podiums between them.
After a stunning 2017 that saw Duffy clinch four gold medals on the WTS circuit and the World Championship, the 30-year-old Bermudian is relishing the prospect of stepping out at the Yas course next month.
“I was disappointed to miss the Abu Dhabi race last year due to an injury,” she said. “I’ve heard a ton of great things about the course so I can’t wait to tackle it next month — especially the bike course which looks like it’s really suited to my aggressive style of racing.
“I’ve never topped the podium in Abu Dhabi so, of course, it would be amazing to start the season with a win. I’m going all in as always and hoping for the best possible outcome.”
In addition to the elite field, the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi has amateur race categories suited to all ages and abilities, and will welcome 3,500 amateur athletes to take part in the two-day event.
Triathlon’s most recognisable duo, the Brownlee brothers, will descend on the capital next month to take part in the ITU World Triathlon Series Abu Dhabi 2018 on 2-3 March.
Alastair and Jonny have dominated the sport for over 10 years and provided one of the most inspiring moments in sporting history when Alistair helped younger brother Jonny across the finish line in ITU World Triathlon Series Grant Final 2016 in Mexico.
“I’m definitely keen to get out there and race in March – the new course on the F1 track looks really good for a sprint distance race,” said two-time Olympic gold medallist Alastair.
“I’m looking forward to toeing the line against a top field in Abu Dhabi to see where I am after coming back from injury – it’s no secret that I’ll be looking to be competitive, especially with the Commonwealth Games coming up in April.”
The star of last year’s women’s elite race, Andrea Hewitt, will also return to Yas Island this spring to compete for the WTS Abu Dhabi title.
Hewitt contested another of the most memorable finishes of the ITU World Triathlon Series calendar in the 2017 event against Jodie Stimpson, with Hewitt pipping the defending champion on the iconic blue carpet.
“The 2017 race was a turning point for me both personally and professionally,” said Hewitt.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what this year’s race holds and with a bit of luck, I’ll be on the podium again.”
Organisers have also announced that the fourth edition of the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi will be a test event for the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.
It will be the first time the region has hosted the Games, which are expected to see over 7,000 athletes descend on the UAE from 14 to 21 March 2019.