A VETERAN has spoken about how he has found a new lease of life through playing pickleball. 

Andy McErlean, from Hampshire, was stationed in German with the Army when he was in a car crash in 1989.

He and two other army engineers were returning to camp after competing in a rugby tournament when their vehicle was involved in a collision.

Then aged 19, he suffered bad injuries and the crash left him paralysed with a fracture to his spine and lower limb paralysis.

“That was everything you didn’t want as a 19-year-old” he said.

“I was really physically active and then I was just this body in the bed really just striving to get out of bed.”

He was flown home to RAF Warton and spent months in rehab, before sport helped bring back his strength and helped him regain his life.

The accident forced him to change his point of view and grab every opportunity.

Once discharged from hospital, Andy found life difficult as he felt like he was the only one in a wheelchair. 

With support from friends and family, he came to terms with his new life and he went back to college. Soon after, he found joy playing tennis and then his pickleball career began.

Andy is now the defending wheelchair champion for English Nationals and he has been training with the Great Britain Paralympic team.

“I’ve been lucky enough to go on to win in several tennis tournaments including the New Zealand Open wheelchair mixed doubles, World Team Cup in France, Paralysed Veterans of America Games and two Invictus Games,” said Andy.

“I also supported Team GB by being a ‘training hitter’ at two Paralympics. I have so many highlights from my sporting career but it’s the amazing people I spent time with who really stick in my memory.”

When player Lucy Shuker won a medal, Andy was thrilled for her as it was great to be around like-minded people.

Andy at homeAndy at home (Image: Andy McErlean)

With the Skechers English Open coming up in Telford - a pickleball tournament - on August 8-12 the pressure is on.

Andy, 54, said: “It is really good fun, lovely atmosphere but there is always there that competitive side you want to win, but I always find if I'm enjoying myself, I'll play better.”

Pickleball is becoming one of the fastest growing sports in the UK. It has seen a meteoric rise in the UK due to its inclusive and accessible nature, with an estimated 12,000 regular players and more than 450 venues offering the sport across the country.

Andy has also broadened his horizons by taking part in the Ashley Banjo secret street crew with his basketball team in 2014, presented on Sky One.

Andy's home life is also looking up, as after his wife Cathy saw an easy to use lift called the Trio+ from Stiltz on DIY SOS, the decided to get one fitted.

The lift accommodates a passenger using a wheelchair or other mobility aids and means he can travel between floors in less than 30 seconds.

Andy said: "It’s a life changer. It just makes everything easier. It’s functional, simple, cool, simply a fantastic solution. It fulfils everything we ever wanted from a homelift.”

Andy said that he hopes his story will help inspire other people. 

He said: “'Just grab every opportunity there is, you know, life does get better and just embrace every day.”