Eight years ago Andy Campbell fell from the cliff face he was scaling. When his body collided with the ground beneath he was immediately paralysed from the waist down and henceforth confined to a wheelchair. Since then, he has relearned to ski, paraglide, kayak, mountain bike, SCUBA dive and rock climb without the use of his legs. His expeditions have taken him to Alaska, Africa, India’s Spiti Valley, the peaks of Colorado, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the forests of Croatia and the plains of South Africa. This July he is set to take on his biggest challenge yet, travelling 30,000 miles around the world in a wheelchair in order to raise money to provide people with disabilities the equipment to live and explore.
1. Your blog is called “Pushing the Limits” and your tagline reads “…and what we should all be doing”. Why should we all be doing this?
I just think it’s human nature, to never be satisfied and to push forward to see what’s next. Pushing the limits isn’t about being crazy and living on the edge or permanently running on adrenaline, it’s about just enjoying life. Just because you’re comfortable in life doesn’t mean you’re satisfied or enjoying it all. Get out of your comfort zone and push yourself a little, the worst thought in the world has to be “If only I’d…”
2. You have a great story to tell, do you think you would be leading a similar life if you hadn’t had the accident?
It’s interesting; my accident was definitely life-changing in so many ways. Some negative and some positive. I’ve always loved adventure, until my accident I was in the Army and getting a pretty good amount of it too. For me, what I do now is the same but different, I’m just replacing one form of adventure with another. I remember seeing my insurance forms, noticing they classed it as a ‘catastrophic event’ and thinking “Well, come on. It’s not all that bad surely?”
3. 30,000miles around the world in a wheelchair- what a brilliant challenge. How have you being training for it?
There’s so much to train for! Obviously a lot of it is hugely physical and you can’t do anything to prepare other than to rack up the miles and try to simulate everything as much as possible. But there is a lot of skills training too, kayaking, paragliding, rope techniques etc. I’m using whatever methods I can to cross terrain and environments that are otherwise completely inaccessible to a wheelchair so practising for every eventuality is as important as the physical stuff.
4. Who does your support team consist of?
At home I have people helping with the logistics and planning side of things, thevisamachine.com and tourdeforce.co.uk are handling a lot of the bureaucracy for me. On the road the support team is a two man crew, driving the support vehicle and following me along the route.
5. How long has the expedition taken to plan?
It’s been my brainchild for almost two years now. Going through different stages from “yeah, that’d be cool” to “I just set a start date, this got real!”
6. Tell me about your chosen charities influence on your life?
Obviously becoming paralysed completely changes your life, I’ve always been really aware of how fortunate I’ve been to not only survive and stay healthy but have the equipment that lets me do all these things. I think it’s easy to understand how difficult life can be for people with paralysis in developing countries with no healthcare or support at all. It’s not an exaggeration to say that people who are essentially left to slowly die can be directly saved with a £135 wheelchair. Motivation.org.uk is a UK based charity that provides wheelchairs, equipment and training that I’ll be working with and raising money for. The other charity, The Chutkara Initiative, is one I’ve set up myself to provide adaptive outdoor sports equipment to wheelchair users around the world.
7) It is expensive equipment, how do you afford it all?
That’s my main reason for setting up The Chutkara Initiative. If you’re not paralysed then it’s easy to see all the things people in wheelchairs can do and think it’s pretty simple to have fun or get outdoors if you’re paralysed. But in reality it’s a nightmare, wheelchairs are great but they’re made for wheelchair accessible places and struggle to go anywhere more wild than the supermarket. If someone in a wheelchair wants to go skiing or hand cycling, or even something as simple as a walk through the woods with their children then they need another piece of specialised equipment. A sitski can cost over £7000, an off-road wheelchair up to £5000. When you’re paralysed, you may endure higher living costs and possible lower income after losing your job that becomes an unobtainable luxury. So people become restricted to the supermarket or concrete, physically and financially. I was lucky to have the support and resources to get equipment myself, but a lot of people simply can’t.
8. Where is your favourite place in the world?
No idea, I’m still looking.
9. You are redrawing the lines of possibility, how does that feel?
I’m not really. I’m not doing anything that anyone else can’t do or anything that was impossible before. There’s definitely other people who use wheelchairs that are better skiers or kayakers or paraglider pilots than me, and even more who could beat me around the route quite easily. That’s a big part of my motivation for this expedition; to show what everyone has the potential to do but often can’t because they just don’t have the equipment.
10. After the accident , were there any thoughts of defeat?
No, obviously it’s a heavy blow to take but the Army teaches you to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I took it on like a challenge and didn’t let myself get down because I knew it’d get worse later on, so far it’s not though.
11. Have you ever returned to the scene where it all happened?
Yes, I went back and climbed it again with the help of the Edale Mountain Rescue team that saved my life. It doesn’t hold any mythical or superstitious value for me, it’s just a place.
12.You say you will have to learn, “Can you give me a push” in 24 dialects, that was probably a joke but can you do it, show me?!
I’ve since revised this to be a more realistic goal of being able to mime “give me a push” in 24 dialects, charades style!
13.You have been on some incredible adventures, how did you stop dreaming about them and actually start doing them?
I don’t. I’m always dreaming of them, constantly. I’ll never be able to do all the things I dream of. I’ll be dreaming of so many at once that I’ll eventually just tell myself “Shut up and actually do one”. Mostly I impulsively just head off somewhere and do something.
14. Your sports include skiing, paragliding, diving, mountain biking and kayaking, how did you perfect this quantity of sports when most people just concentrate on one or two?
I’m too greedy. Everything I do isn’t for the sake of the sport itself but as a way to go where I want without using my legs. I started off just skiing as a way to get into the mountains again, but then got greedy and wanted to go into the mountains during the summer too and started paragliding. Then I wanted to still go into the mountains when the weather wasn’t good enough for flying, so I got into biking. I tried to focus on one or two but that just meant I was restricting myself to certain places, so I end up with a garage full of gear for just about everything.
15. Your arms must be huge, any idea of your biceps/triceps measurements?
No idea at all. I’ve never really worked out or been a gym rat at all; I exercise by just doing what I do. Arms and shoulders just aren’t designed for all this work, so if I’m going to wear them out and ruin them then I prefer to do it outside going somewhere rather than in a gym.
16.Was there a period of simply getting use to living life in a wheel chair, going back to the basics or did you skip that phase altogether and just get stuck in to the adventure side?
My plan after leaving hospital following my accident was to take a year out and travel around to get use to life in a wheelchair before going to university and settling down. I jumped straight in and organised a trip to Sweden to learn how to ski sitting down before I’d even left hospital, I had to forge the doctor’s signature on the consent forms. Eight years later and I’m still on my ‘year out’. I still haven’t got used to it yet.
17. Sometimes, only sometimes I think Life is a bitch, do you agree or disagree?
Oh hell yeah, life can suck. But you need the lows so you can appreciate the highs.
> Andy Campbell is speaking at the Night of Adventure on 20th February in London’s Leicester Square Theatre, in aid of Hope & Homes for Children. Ticket information