By Kellie Speed
U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Andrew Hairston never could have imagined he would lose his left leg here in the States after returning home from being deployed. While the accident certainly changed his life, his impressive outlook has him proving nothing is impossible.
“After I got back from deployment, we were moving into a new house when I was loading a mattress onto the truck and it fell off,” he told U.S. Veterans Magazine in a recent phone interview. “Just as I was picking it back up, someone hit me. When I was hit, I thought the vehicle hit my funny bone which was why my leg was numb.
When they got me into the back of the ambulance, they gave me some meds for the pain. I was upset and hangry at the time because I had just ordered Domino’s. When I heard someone say, ‘left leg amputation,’ that’s when it hit me.”
Despite his injury, the U.S. Virgin Islands native has not only found many reasons to be grateful, but also push himself to incredible limits.
“As a Marine, we go from being active and physical specimens and being the best at everything to being reduced to having a caretaker,” Hairston said. “I had to fight to get back to my old self. When I was injured, I had another reason to be glad I joined the Marine Corps. I had a phone call with my Colonel at the time and I was sent to Walter Reed. They have the best adaptive program in the Department of Defense. When I was there, I told them I wanted to go to the Paralympics.”
Now holding the title of the first para-cyclist in Virgin Islands history and being the only hand cyclist in the Marine Corps to win at the 2022 Warrior Games was “the greatest feeling in my entire Marine Corps career,” he said. “Hearing guys in other branches saying ‘there’s a guy killing it in cycling’ or ‘watch out for that Marine’ was incredible. When I was injured, my physical and occupational therapists told me that even though I lost a leg, they kept reinforcing that I can still do what I did before; I just needed to figure out how to do it now. I was able to prove to myself that I can still be active and take a walk with my wife (a Marine helicopter pilot) or play with my dogs and being able to compete really helped me with my recovery.”
Hairston first competed in a four-mile race in Central Park. “It was the first time that I felt like myself,” he said. “As a Marine, we have to win everything, but I came in third place. That gave me the Paralympics bug. I have done a few marathons now in hand cycling and am getting ready to do three more.”
With two gold medals for cycling, a silver medal in archery and silver and bronze awards for track to his credit, Hairston’s continued determination to succeed has reinforced he is still the same specimen he was when he joined the military — just a little bit different now.
Hairston created a nonprofit called Salvage Life with the goal of inspiring others to lead a healthy and active lifestyle with a focus on veteran and disabled communities in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“Knowing that people back home are disabled and not able to get the same support that I had here in the states was the reason I started the nonprofit,” he said. “As I continue in my recovery, I was able to host the first adaptive sports clinic in the Virgin Islands just before Warrior Games. I showed guys how to shoot archery and wanted to show people that you can make things work for someone with a disability. After my injury, I said if I can help just one person, it would be a success. I got to help eight people; that’s the best part of it.”