Meet the Indestructible Andy Campbell

His motto is, “Broken, not Beaten”; and just browsing through his online journal of adventures at TheAndyCampbell.com can be exhausting for those of us whose idea of adventure is a weekend Star Wars marathon on Spike TV. Oh yeah, did I mention Andy is confined to a wheelchair?

“Confined” is probably a word best not used in the presence of Andy Campbell. He’s anything but confined – whether he’s scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef; skiing in Steamboat Springs, Colorado; or paragliding over the French countryside.  The story of Andy’s disability goes back to 2004 when he was serving as a Sergeant in the Armed Forces of his home country, Great Britain. A dedicated soldier and Iraq veteran, Andy was rock climbing in the English Peak District, when the belay holding him snapped, sending him plunging into the rocks some 50 feet below. Andy suffered breaks to his legs, hips, pelvis, and spinal column – instantly paralyzing him from the waist down. “Even so, I began the fight to reclaim my sense of adventure from a hospital bed”, says Andy. “Lying immobile flat on my back for almost 5 months while bones healed and re-joined, I dreamt of new ways to explore the world and seek out adventure.

“Seek out adventure he has indeed. Just three months out of the hospital, Andy was on the ski slopes in Sweden, on a specially designed skiing device called a “SitSki” with the phrase “Die Living” boldly emblazoned on the back. Only 16 months after being resuscitated during surgery after his accident, Andy became the first wheelchair user ever to paraglide from the 6000 ft. Babadag Mountain in southern Turkey; and that’s only the beginning.

In an effort to try and give back to the Edale Mountain Rescue Team that saved his life on the fateful day of his accident, Andy mounted an all-terrain Hand-Cycle, and rode in a fundraiser for the Team, that took him across the entire U.K. – almost 1,000 miles. Andy himself calls the excursion “arm shattering”; and I’m sure that most of us would have a hard time hand pedaling ourselves to the mailbox – much less the length of an entire country!

Andy has shown an unbreakable iron will in the face of all adversity. He has traveled all over the planet exploring, adventuring, and daring himself for the next challenge ahead of him. Some of his excursions include: paragliding over Turkey, swimming with sting-rays in Australia, diving with Great White Sharks in Africa, and Heli-Skiing down the peaks of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. In Andy’s words, the allure of all of this is simply “being outdoors”, which “brings a sense of freedom and peace”. Currently, Andy is training for the 2010 Winter Paralympic Games as a member of the British Adaptive Ski Team. Training is a year-round effort with the Spring and Summer months being spent in the Northern hemisphere in Canada, and in the Southern hemisphere – Australia and New Zealand in the Winter.

Andy’s broader vision is not simply to appease the adventurer within himself. “I’m trying to find new ways to reclaim the wilderness for people in wheelchairs”, says Andy, “I hope to put my experiences together to help other people with disabilities get outdoors and push the limits of accessibility to enjoy places and experiences normally out of bounds to wheelchairs.”

A company in Colorado called Access Anything specializes in exactly that: travel and adventure for people with physical disabilities. For more information, see www.AccessAnything.net.

When life hands you lemons, you can make lemonade; or you can do what Andy Campbell has done – set up lemonade stands all over the world, as a testament to defeating adversity. There’s a Star Wars marathon on TV this weekend, but I think I’m going to spend it outdoors instead. – Ben McCoy

Follow Andy around the world on Twitter: @Andy_Campbell