Andy Barrow is making sure that he gives back
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When Andy Barrow was 17, he didn’t have a care in the world. He loved his rugby, although he wasn’t “very good”, and being out on the pitch was one of lives pleasures for the English teenager.
But it was on one such day in London that things went horribly wrong. Packing down at hooker, Barrow was in the middle of a scrum that went down, and he got hurt.
A broken neck that resulted in a spinal cord injury meant five months of rehabilitation, which he describes as a “big process”. At least he could count on the support of his mom and dad, as well as the greater community, which he was hugely grateful for as that is something “that not everyone has”.
You would think that such a catastrophic injury would cause you to stay far away from any kind of sport, let alone rugby. But Barrow found a way to rekindle his love affair with the oval-ball game via wheelchair rugby.
More than two decades later, he is a three-time Paralympian for Great Britain, a multiple European champion, and also competed in three World Cups. Having retired from wheelchair rugby in 2012, Barrow became a Laureus ambassador, and initiated programmes in his home suburb of Greenwich to motivate children to be physically active.
The 40-year-old has a global reach as well, having visited Japan to create awareness about wheelchair rugby ahead of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.
%%%twitter https://twitter.com/AndyBarrow2012?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@AndyBarrow2012, @LaureusSport ambassador and Wheelchair Rugby Paralympian, at Rusthof Primary School in Strand today. Watch this space for the interview, where Andy also spoke about the @Springboks @rugbyworldcup win ahead of #Laureus20 Awards in Berlin @IOLsport pic.twitter.com/iOtiWWlbKj
— Ashfak Mohamed (@ashfakmohamed)
It may look like a sparkling career, but Barrow said at Rusthof Primary School in Strand - where a coach from the Laureus-sponsored Living Legends project was taking Grade 1 learners through various physical activities - that his success as a sportsman was not planned.
“Staying fit was going to mean that I could lead a more independent life. I started playing wheelchair rugby because it was fun, and I wanted the camaraderie and I wanted to feel normal, in a way. And I don’t say that to mean that as a person with a disability, I didn’t feel normal - because I feel comfortable in that body and as a person with a disability,” he said.
“Then I found myself getting selected for the international team, and focusing on other areas than just sport. I came to South Africa in 2002 as a fledgling player, and there is and has been for many years now a South African wheelchair rugby team.
“I was here nearly 20 years ago, but that also gave me a perspective on just how lucky I was in the UK - the support structure I had because I happened to have broken my neck playing rugby, rather than being hit by a car or something.
“Things like that - understanding your privilege - kind of spurred me on.”
The Laureus World Sports Awards take place in Berlin on February 17, where the Springboks have been nominated for the Team of the Year and Natalie du Toit for the Best Sporting Moment of the last 20 years.
But there is also the Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability category, with six nominees - Diede de Groot (tennis), Omara Durand (athletics), Oksana Masters (cycling), Jetze Plat (triathlon), Manuela Schär (athletics) and Alice Tai (swimming) - and Barrow is delighted that disabled sports stars are recognised at a mainstream event.
Laureus ambassador Andy Barrow's visit to Rusthof Primary. Video: Ashfak Mohamed/IOLSport
“It’s absolutely important that disability is recognised as another strand of diversity,” he said. “Everyone needs something to shoot at, and those people and those awards that show people they can do it, show women they can be empowered.”
Barrow remains a big fan of rugby, and is still heartbroken about England’s 32-12 defeat to the Boks in the Rugby World Cup final. But he added that the inspiration provided by having Siya Kolisi as South Africa’s captain “just shows what sport can do”.
“I think it’s a privilege doing this kind of work, because I only became successful because so many people helped me and picked me up when I was at my lowest. I got the opportunity to travel the world as a sportsman. It’s just a small part of being able to give back a fraction of what I received.”
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