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How gay amputee Andrew Gregory became a pole champion after a life-changing accident

“People tend to ask me about my leg with a sad look on their face, and I think they’re surprised when I tell them how happy I am with it.”

2020-08-05

This article was first published in Attitude issue 322, April 2020

As told to: Thomas Stichbury

Nineteen years ago, I had a motorcycle accident. I was riding in a foul mood after an argument with a friend. I don’t remember much, but the bike landed on top of my left leg and smashed what was below the knee to pieces; the bones came through the skin, my foot was facing the wrong way, and my leg was bent at a right angle.

I spent a month in hospital having multiple operations to try and repair my leg, but it got infected and didn’t heal well. More procedures followed (14 in total) and yet it continued to deteriorate. I had to use a walking stick and take several painkillers to be able to function and move around.

 

Photography: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa

As it became more problematic and painful, I went to see a surgical team to determine what could be done. There were two options: a series of further operations over the course of three years to reconstruct and lengthen the leg, or to amputate it. I wasn’t interested in surgery that may not even have the desired result, so amputation made sense to me.

I had the op on 27 February 2018 and I felt a huge relief. It was like I was reclaiming a part of my body, even though I was in fact losing it.

My relationship with my leg post-accident wasn’t good – to me, it was misshapen, scarred and ugly – but I hadn’t expected to be happier with my stump. With a prosthetic on, it’s even more beautiful and it gives me confidence in the rest of my body. People tend to ask me about my leg with a sad look on their face, and I think they’re surprised when I tell them how happy I am with it.

Photography: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa

I discovered pole accidentally. I was looking for a form of exercise I could do that would work with my leg, and first came across anti-gravity yoga. The same studio also taught pole – one of the teachers convinced me to have a go, and I was hooked immediately.

Pole will always be linked to strip clubs and exotic performance – this is where it originated, after all – but pole sport and fitness are equally as popular, focusing on incredible athletic routines and sequences of acrobatic tricks.

The thing that surprised me the most is how hard it is. A good poler will make it look effortless, but even having the strength in your grip to support yourself is difficult; I had countless blisters in the early days.

Photography: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa

I have no background in any kind of dance or acrobatics, either, so I came to pole without a clue of how to use my body, and learning how to make things flow and create beautiful formations has taken a long time. I couldn’t even touch my toes at the start; now I can do the splits.

At the moment, I love doing backflips off the pole onto the ground. It took me a while to get over the anxiety of landing on my foot in case I damaged it – my brain is understandably quite protective of that foot!

Pole is a very welcoming sport and we celebrate all bodies. I spend a lot of time in tiny shorts because skin grip is key on the pole, and it’s amazing how wearing so little makes you more comfortable with your body. It’s a great place to see real bods, not the ones in adverts or on television.

Photography: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa

The feeling when I perform is indescribable. Something takes over as soon as the music plays; you go into autopilot mode. As an amputee, I know the audience is surprised by what I can do. I mainly perform without my prosthetic and the shapes I make are unique to me. My tattoos and my stump create a strong visual that I embrace.

I am now a parapole world champion, and in October I took gold at the IPSF [International Pole Sports Federation] World Championships in Canada. In February, I also competed against able-bodied polers in a non-parapole competition and won. This was way beyond what I had hoped for, to share the stage with some awesome performers and be judged equally.

When people watch me on the pole, the most common reaction is they come over to tell me I’m inspiring and, of course, I love to hear that — who wouldn’t? But what I really want is for people to simply think that I’m good. It’s why the win against the able-bodied performers was so important: there was no special treatment, nobody felt sorry for me.

Photography: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa

I have more competitions coming up this year [depending on the impact of the coronavirus], I am teaching at the London Dance Academy, and I’m currently working with the Alternative Limb Project on a pole prosthetic that will be part art/part functional.

I’m also going to get myself out there and look for a partner. I haven’t had sex since the amputation because I don’t know how guys see me, if they still find me attractive. There is a whole world of fetishists who idolise amputees, but this doesn’t interest me – it’s definitely more about the stump than what’s attached to it.

Although my fear of rejection has increased, I feel I’m just reaching the point where I possibly want to meet a significant other.

@tattoo_pole_boy