“I like cycling because you get out what you put in,” he says. “So if you put in a lot, you get out as much.” And Andrew has certainly been putting in for more than six years.
In 2000 a young boy with cerebral palsy – a permanent, non-degenerative condition that affects movement – sat and watched the Olympics on television. He got very excited when Bendigo’s adopted son, Scott McGrory, won the first ever Olympic Madison event with Brett Aitken. Shortly afterwards the Bendigo and District Cycling Club held a come-and-try day. Andrew was hooked.
“The Bendigo Cycling Club were so good to me and I borrowed their bikes for ages,” he remembers. There he also met his coach, Noel Sens. Like every competitive athlete Andrew worries about his performance. “My cycling technique wasn’t very good when I started and I’m still working on that at the moment. I tend to have very stiff arms and look down and that’s not good.”
But Andrew is not just concerned about himself. Dad, Alan, agrees that he was always more worried about hurting someone else than himself. Sometimes that actually stopped him doing as well as he could have because he was concentrating so much on everybody else.
Mum, Sharon, remembers he had trouble starting on the bike. “It was one thing you weren’t good at, wasn’t it?”
Since then though, the Australian Paralympic talent search program has identified Andrew as a potential paralympian. Now London 2012 beckons. It’s his drive to compete at world level that keeps him inspired.
Andrew is quick to acknowledge the support he’s received to get him this far: a YMCA scholarship, a good deal on his gym membership, a Telstra grant and a grant from the Senior Secondary College. Blue Line Office Supplies, where he works part-time, have also been very supportive and flexible. Now he’s looking for further sponsorship over the next five years.
“And I think I’ve got to say Mum and Dad have been a fantastic support,” he adds.
What’s it like being a champion’s Mum? “It’s a lot easier now that he’s older,” says Sharon. “I still panic though when he’s out on the road.”
“You don’t watch me when I’m riding the track,” Andrew interjects.
“No. They go too fast!,” she laughs wryly. “It’s hard to watch.”
As cyclists do, we start talking bikes. Andrew had been using a track bike on loan from the Australian Paralympic Committee. Now he’s buying an Alchemy from an encouraging supporter. He’d also like to upgrade his road bike, but Sharon objects.
“We’re not talking road bikes, are we Andy?” she says.
“No,” he agrees, but adds: “I look around in Hardings and I just dream.”
“Don’t we all?” I comment and we all laugh.
So Andrew dreams of new bikes, the 2012 Paralympics and working as a sports scientist. At the same time he juggles training, gym work, a part-time job, VCE and more competition. The next big event is the Australian Athletes with Disability Road Championships in Bacchus Marsh at the end of March.
He’s been out training this evening and got caught in a rare rain shower. The bike has been dripping in the car port and now it’s dry enough to bring inside. “I bought him a garden shed, but will he use it?” His mother smiles. Andrew smiles too as he carries the bike into the house where it belongs.
Postscript: Andrew won a gold medal in his category in the 40km road race at Bacchus Marsh.