The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

88° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Paralympian trains with UA track team

    Danny Andrews, who trains with the UA track field team runs at practice at Drachman Stadium. Andrews had his leg amputated at 14, has set three Paralympic world records and is training for the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing.
    Danny Andrews, who trains with the UA track field team runs at practice at Drachman Stadium. Andrews had his leg amputated at 14, has set three Paralympic world records and is training for the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing.

    After concluding a set of sprints, Danny Andrews sits down and peels the silicone liner off his left leg. He then pulls off his prosthetic carbon-fiber running leg, wipes the sweat off his residual limb with a small towel and switches to his walking leg.

    It’s all part of Andrews’ daily routine as he trains for the 2008 Paralympics with the UA track and field team.

    Since Andrews began running on a prosthetic leg 10 years ago, he has set three Paralympic world records and won four gold medals.

    “”He’s the most amazing competitor you will ever watch,”” UA sprinter Marcus Tyus said. “”He works hard, and honestly, it’s amazing how talented he is.””

    An injury on the pitch

    It was 11 years ago, but Danny Andrews still remembers it like it was yesterday.

    Playing goalie in a club soccer match in the Florida State Cup, Andrews slid out of the goalie box attempting to clear the ball. Coming cleat-first, a forward also made an effort at the ball. He crashed into Andrews’ left leg.

    At a local hospital in Holiday, Fla., a doctor told Andrews, then 14, that it was a simple mid-tip fracture in his tibia.

    Two weeks after the injury, instead of working his way back onto the soccer field as he finished middle school, Andrews was adjusting to life without a lower left leg.

    Andrews was the victim of untreated compartment syndrome – a syndrome where progressive swelling of an injured muscle results in eventual poor blood supply to that same muscle.

    Compartment syndrome is normally associated with trauma to an extremity, said Dr. Stephen Ruffenach, a Tucson internal medicine specialist. He added that the location of the injury will tend to have a distorted color, extreme pain and slight swelling. Additionally, the area below the injury will feel cool.

    “”Looking at that leg from the outside, it might not look that bad,”” Ruffenach said. “”But it is a surgical emergency, where you have to operate as soon as possible.””

    Andrews’ compartment syndrome was not diagnosed until four days after the injury. By the time he underwent surgery, which consisted of two longitudinal incisions to relieve the pressure, some of the muscle and tissue below his knee had begun to die.

    Andrews spent the two weeks following his proper diagnosis in and out of drug-induced comas.

    The athletic Andrews, who had played sports since he was 6 years old, was now being pushed around from hospital room to hospital room in a wheelchair living off a feeding tube. He lost 30 pounds in three weeks at the hospital.

    “”I was pretty unconscious for most of the time,”” Andrews said. “”I don’t think I really knew amputation was an option until the time they actually told me.””

    Andrews recalls the moment after his parents told him amputation was a viable option.

    “”I was devastated from the fact that I thought everything I had done, I didn’t think I would be able to do again,”” he said. “”When the doctor actually told me, my first question was, ‘Would I be able to play soccer again?’ “”

    A life-altering decision

    Andrews chose the option of having his leg amputated over pinning his knee and ankle, because the latter would have confined him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

    The doctor was a former engineer who was knowledgeable about prosthetics. He gave the sports-minded Andrews some options for the future.

    “”I asked if I had the amputation could I play sports again?”” Andrews recalled. “”He said, ‘Yes.’ So I said, ‘Do it.’ “”

    In his third week of being in the hospital, Andrews had his left leg amputated 6 inches below his knee.

    The dead tissue on his leg didn’t heal quickly, and he couldn’t be fitted for a prosthetic leg for two months.

    Andrews described the two months after his amputation as the “”worst part,”” as he visited the doctor’s office twice a week and had a tough time coming down off three weeks of medication.

    Once Andrews was fitted for a prosthetic leg, he could get up and walk within five steps. But it took him a couple of years to rid himself of the “”bad habits”” amputees tend to have, such as a limp or swinging motion with the prosthetic leg.

    “”I was supposed to be out for a year,”” Andrews said, “”but I started playing soccer again after six months.””

    He was not medically cleared to play any sports his freshman year of high school, but he joined the soccer team his sophomore year – prosthetic leg and all.

    Until his junior year of high school, Andrews played all his sports in his walking leg with a pad over the leg to protect the other athletes.

    In his junior year, he received a prosthetic running leg made out of carbon fiber, and he started to focus on track and field.

    His insurance company paid for his first few walking legs, which he said cost around $15,000 for each leg.

    “”I’ve been real lucky when it comes to the financial side,”” Andrews said.

    Getting on the track

    One of his aunt’s friends who ran in the Paralympics contacted Andrews when he left the hospital. In 1996, Andrews flew with his family to Atlanta to watch him compete in the Paralympics.

    “”It really gave me an idea of what was out there,”” Andrews said.

    He took his newfound motivation and began training for the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, Australia. He gained the sponsorship of Ossur, one of the leading companies in prosthetics manufacturing.

    Ossur now provides Andrews with both his walking and running leg, the latter of which is made out of carbon fiber and a fiberglass composite.

    Andrews set the world record in the 800-meter race in his Paralympic debut, winning a gold medal with his time of 2:08.79.

    Andrews then attended Miami, where he studied biomedical engineering, graduating in 2004.

    “”Originally I chose the major because I wanted to work with prosthetics and prosthetic design,”” Andrews said. “”I liked the major, I just decided that I didn’t want (prosthetics) to be work too.””

    He competed for three years with the Miami track and field team, where he had to go through some NCAA red tape to allow for Ossur to provide him with the prosthetic legs for free.

    “”Everybody else gets their shoes for free, so they let me get my running stuff for free,”” Andrews said.

    He did not compete with the Miami track and field team in his senior year because he was competing with the Ossur team in preparation for the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, Greece.

    In Athens, Andrews set two world records as he won gold medals in the 400m and the 4x400m. He also won gold in the 4x100m relay.

    Andrews now lives in Tucson, where he is training for the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing.

    He first contacted UA track and field head coach Fred Harvey, who put him in touch with the UA sprints coach Dawn Boxley.

    “”It was a great opportunity for both of us,”” said Boxley, who added that his practice time with the team is limited because of NCAA guidelines.

    “”He works tremendously hard,”” she added. “”There’s not a whole lot of complaining from him.””

    Harvey said Andrews encourages many athletes on the team with his work ethic.

    “”We’re gonna do everything and figure out what he can’t do,”” Harvey said. “”We’re not gonna assume you can’t do certain things. Some people look at me like I’ve lost my mind, like I’m crazy.””

    Andrews said the UA practice regimen is much more intense than Miami’s. He also said he enjoys Arizona because the track team is close on and off the field.

    Seeing Andrews on the track made an impact on senior sprinter Troy Harris, who has trained with Andrews for the past two years.

    “”I was just real impressed that he was so dedicated to compete every day with people who have an advantage over him,”” Harris said. “”When I see how much effort he puts in, it makes me say that I can do it too.””

    More to Discover
    Activate Search