On 13 October 2009, Andy Reid MBE (UK) was severely injured after stepping on a Taliban improvised explosive device while on patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Both his legs required amputation, along with his right arm.
Each year in October, to mark the occasion of his injury, he sets himself an ambitious challenge to raise money and give back to the associations that helped him through that trying time.
In 2022, Andy decided to go bigger than ever.
Representing the Standing Tall Foundation, a charity he co-founded in 2020, and sponsored by Uber Eats, Andy ascended Mount Kilimanjaro to make the world’s highest altitude burger delivery on land (5,895 m; 19,341 ft), along with his close friend Daniel Hodges and 22 other volunteer delivery climbers.
Andy also became the first triple amputee from the UK to summit the Tanzanian mountain.
This wasn’t the first time Andy had climbed Kilimanjaro. He’d previously done it in 1999, aged 21, as a young army recruit.
“I had all my arms and legs and it was still quite tough then,” Andy said.
“But what a great thing to do to show people with disabilities what can be achieved with the right mindset and obviously the right team of people.”
Dan Hodges is a long-serving volunteer for the Standing Tall Foundation and acted as the unofficial project coordinator. He headed up the ‘secondary’ group of climbers, comprised mostly of eager volunteer fundraisers.
Andy’s team was a smaller, more specialized squad, including two physios, a consultant surgeon, a prosthetist, and a mountain leader.
As Andy required rest days on the mountain, his team departed earlier. Both teams planned their climbs so as to reach the summit at the same time. Andy’s team took 14 days whilst Dan’s did it in six.
Andy prepared for two years in order to get himself physically and mentally ready for this tall task.
He used a thin-air therapy machine to make his body more oxygen efficient, and he adhered to a strict training regime which involved lots of treadmill work. He also scaled Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales and England, alongside his training partners.
It took Andy just five days to ascend Kilimanjaro back in 1999. “We didn’t have to put much physical or mental prep into it because we were already fit from being in the army,” he explained.
“This time, it was a lot different.”
One of the main things requiring special consideration was Andy’s left prosthetic leg. It’s valued at £60,000 ($74,750) and contains high-tech microprocessors which allow the leg to adjust to various terrains and adapt to the way Andy walks.
The only slight downside, however, is that it needs to be charged up once every five days. At higher, colder altitudes it needs to be charged even more frequently. Andy carried power packs with him, keeping them warm in his socks and pockets, then charging his leg up overnight when needed.
“I’ve got an open wound in my leg where the pin goes in, so it’s about keeping that clean as well,” Andy said.
His right prosthetic leg was perhaps even more problematic, as it is covered in a silicone liner. “It was a matter of walking 100 metres, taking that off, cleaning my leg, cleaning the liner, putting it back on again, and then cracking on so I didn’t get any sores or cuts on my leg,” Andy explained.
Each day involved around 10-12 hours of walking. When his team stopped for the night, Andy had to attend to his legs for up to two hours before he could sleep. Equally, he had to wake up an hour earlier than everyone else in order to screw his leg back on.
When Andy’s left leg was amputated, he underwent osseointegration surgery, also known as direct skeletal fixation, which replaces the need for an amputee to wear a socket upon which they would normally attach their prosthesis.
According to Andy, less than 50 people in the UK have undergone this operation.
For Andy, part of his record-breaking quest was about “pushing this medical technology as far as it can go.”
Despite the accompanying doctor constantly discouraging Andy from “jumping off big rocks,” Andy felt it was his duty to test the equipment to its limits. He wants to “prove to the NHS back in the UK that this operation changes people’s lives.”
Andy strongly believes that all amputees - not just injured soldiers - should receive the same kind of high-quality prosthesis that he has. “I’m very fortunate to get this amazing bit of technology,” he said.
The burger being delivered up the mountain was a vegan burger from Honest Burgers.
It was cooked and then vacuum packed, thus deemed safe for consumption by the public health officials who oversaw the process.
The burger was then transported to Tanzania, ready to be taken to the top of Kilimanjaro.
“We all took turns in carrying the burger; you could basically call it burger-sitting,” said Dan. Andy was in possession of the burger when both groups summited the mountain together.
The ascent proved challenging for everyone involved, with many developing altitude sickness.
In fact, Dan remembers blacking out twice as his group neared the summit.
“A lot of our team were ready for giving up, myself included at one point,” Dan revealed. “But the knowledge that Andy had already travelled ahead of us kept us going.”
No one ate the burger at the top of the mountain, however, some members of the group decided to dig in when they got back down.
“I think a few of the team were a bit giddy or high off the altitude; they decided to eat it,” Dan said.
“The day after, I believe they all spent a lot of time on the toilets,” he continued, although he acknowledged that their woes could have equally been caused by the other foods consumed during the climb.
“It took a couple weeks for it to sink in what we actually achieved,” Andy admitted. Since returning, he has received many congratulatory messages on social media, and he’s often stopped in the street by people who’ve been inspired by his record-breaking expedition.
He is also proud to have inspired one particular group of injured army veterans who plan to tackle Everest base camp in the near future.
Andy hopes to inspire other disabled people to realize the true limits of their own capabilities, as there is potential within everyone to become Officially Amazing.
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