Equality for Persons with Disabilities

Para-triathlete Andy Lewis is an inspiration both on and off the field: this aerospace ambassador has become world and Paralympic champion while developing a successful career at Airbus.

A match made in the skies

Andy Lewis

I want to prove that disability has no barriers in life. I like to share my own journey and encourage other people with disabilities to regain desire and set goals in life.

Andy’s passion for flight led him to Airbus in 2009. He started in administration and moved to a technical role, followed by jobs in design and processes, and quality. Before taking a two-year sabbatical, he was working on procurement at UK’s Filton site,  responsible for landing-gear delivery to the all the single aisle assembly lines.

Airbus’ blade runner Andy Lewis

The drive to keep challenging yourself

At age 16, Andy Lewis was set to join the UK’s Parachute Regiment, but three days before starting his training, he was involved in a motorcycle accident that resulted in the loss of the lower half of his leg. After years of recurring problems, he decided, in 2005, to have his leg amputated.

For Andy, 2007 is more of a defining year. It was when his first child was born. “I knew I had to do my best to be fit and able to run around and play with her,the now father of two explains.

That same year, he earned his private pilot’s license after applying for a scholarship for the disabled. “I did all the exams, flew every day and managed to get the license in just one month. I realised I had the potential to do a lot of things,” he remembers.

Andy’s passion for flight led him to Airbus in 2009. He started in administration and moved to a technical role, followed by jobs in design and processes, and quality. Before taking a two-year sabbatical, he was working on procurement at UK’s Filton site,  responsible for landing-gear delivery to the all the single aisle assembly lines.

In parallel to his work career, Andy Lewis competed in his first triathlon in April 2014. Since then his progression has been oustanding, culminating with this most recent, memorable season. In 2016, he has won the European Championships, the ITU Para-Triathlon World Championships and the gold medal at the Paralympic Games in Rio.

If you believe it, you can make it

Now one of the small number of athletes worldwide to compete with an above-knee amputation, Andy remembers laughing the first time his friend suggested he compete in a triathlon. But something clicked.

He began to research running blades, contacted a prosthetic company and reached out to athletes with disabilities. “I wanted to understand the engineering and how it would benefit me. At the beginning, I couldn’t even swim! It’s been a difficult journey, but I have learned that if my mind can conceive it, and my heart believe it, then I can achieve it.”

Three questions to Andy Lewis

Now on the World Class Performance Programme, Andy Lewis is not only an elite para-triathlete: increasingly acting as an Airbus ambassador, he supports different disability awareness activities and delivers motivational speeches to various teams, while becoming a source of inspiration for children.

You have just one day of competition to prove your hard work. How do you manage the pressure?

The mental force that goes into the triathlon is unbelievable. First, I swim 750 metres as fast as I can; then I have to physically change one part of my body to bike 20 kilometres and finally I have to put a different leg on to run. It’s an hour and 10 minutes of pure of energy, effort and strength.

How do you balance your career at Airbus with being an elite athlete?

Before I started my sabbatical, I visualised my two-year plan in a drawing of a winding road to see what’s feasible and at which points I would need the Company’s support. I want to massively thank both Airbus for allowing me to pursue my dream, and all the employees who support me in person and on social media.

You have become an inspiration for others, helping young people with disabilities and promoting diversity awareness through motivational speaking.

I’ve helped colleagues understand disability in the workplace, and I explain to children that just because you’re different doesn’t mean you can’t achieve things in life. This includes taking them flying so they can experience the enjoyment of aviation. I’m now thinking of setting up a local ‘Mini Triathlon Starts Club’ to encourage parents to introduce their children into the sport. When I come back to Airbus, I would love to become an ambassador to make use of all the skills I’ve learned as a professional athlete.

Álvaro Friera