From wheelchair to inspiring personal trainer
I met Andrew Donald on a Saturday morning in October. He came through the door to the café. He walked quite fast, and I noticed something awkward about the way he walked. He kind of waddles I thought to myself. I had no more time to think about his walk because once he sat down, I couldn’t take my attention off what he had to say.
Shortly after I find out that this peculiar walk is the result of an incredible story of a man that was never supposed to walk again and only had the slightest chance of survival. The walk is the result of nine hours of surgery and six titanium pins holding the vital parts of Andrew’s pelvis together.
Andrew Donald miraculously recovered from a near fatal accident after a car ran over him on July 18th, 2006. The doctors gave him 30% chance of survival.
“But I did survive,” Andrew says, “and I can walk!” he bursted out with his eyes wide open as if it was still a surprise to him 12 years after the accident.
Andrew had finished an 8-hour shift behind the bar and joined the rest of the bar’s staff for drinks. The rush of the World Cup had just finished which called for celebration. They sat with the flag banners dangling above their heads in the smoke-filled pub, and they drank heavily.
The last thing Andrew remembers is walking to the Casino alone. He called a friend to say he was nearly there. But he never actually made it.
Andrew passed out on the road. A driver didn’t see him and drove straight over him. Andrew’s pelvis twisted at 180°. The paramedics found him with his legs and torso facing opposite directions.
“I was a human speed bump.”
This night in 2006 drastically changed Andrew’s life, in a way that he never imagined.
After the operation the surgeon told Andrew about the severity of his injuries.
“You should be in a wheelchair for the rest of your life and how you aren't is just a miracle. You were one of the most complicated operations I've ever had to carry out, but we've managed to pull through.”
This was the beginning of Andrew’s post operation journey where he, at the age of 24, had to learn to walk all over again. “It felt like I was a baby again. It was a massive achievement when I took my first step. My brother and my parents were there when my foot moved for the first time. All I heard was massive cheers and I thought it is finally happening!”
His eyes started to flick.
"It must have been an incredibly emotional moment" I said.
Andrew nodded quietly and closed his eyes for a short second as a proud smile appeared on his face.
It took 6 months until Andrew could finally walk freely again. The intensive struggle to get back on his feet and the lengthy recovery period stuck in a wheelchair was eating Andrew up. But when it was over, and he could finally do all the things he had missed the past 6 months, it wasn’t the relief Andrew had expected.
“To be honest, I think I hit rock bottom”
Every night, if he was lucky enough to get any sleep, he dreamt of the frightened look on his mom’s face. He dreamed about the tubes that had kept him from talking for weeks. He heard sirens every time he closed his eyes and saw blue flashes everywhere.
“It should have been the happiest time of my life, but something was haunting me. It felt even darker than before my accident. It was the same every day. All I saw in people’s eyes was pity, I couldn’t not feel guilty for that. People saw me differently. I saw myself differently.”
Andrew was diagnosed with Post-traumatic stress disorder in December 2006. He was submitted to counselling after the police questioned him about wrecking a construction site.
Andrew had visited a friend who had repeatedly told him how lucky he was. But he had felt nothing like it. When Andrew walked home, he passed a building suite. The light on the construction site was sharp contrasted to the foggy December streets.
“I don’t remember why I went in. But next thing I knew I was hammering an iron pipe against concrete blocks, knocking things over and kicking everything on the ground. I was so angry, I had to break something."
Andrew howled hysterically as the tears ran down his flushed cheeks. The glass splintered around him but the burning anger and despair inside him kept the wrecking going.
It was about half a year after the accident and just weeks after, he had learned how to walk again.
"I remember I was thinking why did this happened to me? Did I deserve it? Did I deserve this accident? What did I do wrong?”
Andrew continued until he had to stop for breath, which gave him a moment to realise what he had actually done.
“I was completely alone. Not just with the mess at the site, but also with the mess in my life."
Then he ran. He ran, and didn’t look back.
He left the building site behind completely destroyed. Andrew says this was the time he realised he was going nowhere except down a slippery slope. It was time to change.
“I think that is one of my biggest accomplishments – pulling myself up from this deep black whole I had dug myself into.”
To escape himself and the memories Aberdeen brought him, Andrew moved to Florida. Day after day he turned to exercise. He swam in the ocean every day and went to the gym routinely. The change of scenery gave Andrew a chance to forget the hatred and guilt he had built up from his accident.
Andrew started to help people with their fitness and discovered he had a passion for it. He trained as a hobby and didn't pursue it until he came back to Aberdeen. He went back into the bar industry to support himself, but didn’t enjoy the job. Gradually he became more and more unhappy, and he recognised the pattern of life he had escaped from in Florida.
He handed in his resignation at the bar and signed up for a personal trainer course. At the end of the course he landed a job at a gym and went straight into coaching.
Andrew now trains clients daily and helps people not only to get in shape, but to the right path in life through fitness and counselling. He manages a gym with over 3000 members but tells me with a cocky look on his face that he’s aiming for 5000 in a year.
Andrew speaks about his clients as if they were his kids. I almost expected him to pull out his wallet and show me pictures. He has a very proud look in his eyes, when he tells me about the journey, they are all going through with him.
“I think where I relate to my accident a lot is when I see people struggling. I see people come into the gym with no motivation, who have given up on themselves. People that need to make big changes.
“I have used my story many times and told people about the situation I was in. I had in the back of my head that I wanted to get myself to a certain goal. It is a mindset that you have to put yourself into.
“You have to change your frame of mind in the way you think and believe in yourself.”
Andrew is dressed from head to toe in bright turquoise branded gym clothes. He tells me he is going to hand out flyers on the street after. He looks out of the window where the frost is nearly melted. “It’s going to be 4 long hours, because I really feel the cold with the pins in my pelvis.”
As we walked down the street, I noticed his awkward walk again - and I asked “does it hurt?” Andres nodded and tilted his head, “A lot less than life in a wheelchair though.”
He wants to show me his gym, what he calls “home”. Once we step in the door, I start to understand why. Not because there’s a particularly homely atmosphere, but because I saw how Andrew feels at home. Some people wave at him, a woman stops the treadmill to hug him and appraises his broccoli stew recipe and a few guys give him a high five as they pass by us.
“It's been one hell of a journey. I've met some beautiful people along the way. But I think because of the accident I am where I am now mentally, which has gotten me my dream job and a much better life.”