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Andrew Blake is a former Paralympic swimmer who won gold at the Seoul 1988 Paralympic Games before going on to compete and win bronze for wheelchair basketball at both the Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. 

Early life

Andrew (Andy) Blake from Milton Keynes in a 2004 interview, told the Guardian

I think sport chose me really. I bought a sports wheelchair when I was 14 and the guy who sold it ran a swimming club and asked me to come along.

Life as a Paralympic Athlete

Andy began his career as a Paralympic swimmer, competing in the Seoul 1988 Paralympic Games where he won gold and the Barcelona 1992 Paralympic Games.

By the time of the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games, Andy had transitioned to the wheelchair basketball team, who were beaten 57 points to 54 by the USA in the bronze medal match.

In 2003 he became captain of the GB Men's Wheelchair Basketball, taking over from co-captains Simon Munn and Ade Adepitan just before the European Championships in Sardinia where they needed to finish in the top five to qualify for the Athens 2004 Paralympics.

As part of their preparations, coach, David Titmuss, had arranged a three-day boot camp which included abseiling, orienteering and crossing a river in cold and wet conditions, in the Brecon Beacons.

Andy told the BBC

We have players in the squad who have had accidents from falling off roofs and they were given the choice but we are close-knit and wanted to do it as a team, … we initially went down the cliff without the chairs but I wanted a photo of me in a wheelchair halfway up a cliff to hang on my hallway so we did it again.

Going on to say

No one we come up against at the European Championships will have gone through the same preparations as us

After winning wheelchair basketball bronze at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games, Andy told the Guardian:

I was only 16 when I won the swimming gold in 1992, so didn't really understand the significance. But with the bronze for basketball at Athens, I made sure I savoured every single moment.

While he was still a competitive athlete, Andy got involved in a variety of different causes including the John Grooms (known as Livability after merging with The Shaftesbury Society in 2007). When asked how he became a part of this organisation he said

I am a resident at one of their homes in Milton Keynes. After the Paralympics in Athens this summer, the charity asked me and five other members of the Great Britain wheelchair basketball team to take part in the launch of their 'Life is a Lucky Dip' campaign. It was at the Tory party conference in Bournemouth and we played a game with a couple of MPs on the beach. It was after that that John Grooms asked me if I wanted to become their ambassador, and I accepted.

During celebrations for the United Nations (UN) International Day for Disabled People he was asked about his involvement with the World Emergency Relief and his personal experience of being disabled in the UK, which he had previously spoken about in the Houses of Parliament, he said:

They approached me at around the same time that I became involved with John Grooms. I think winning a medal at the Paralympics sparked a lot of interest in us.

The day after the UN International Day for Disabled People, Andy also played a part in the launch of the Wheels of Change campaign

And the next day I will play against a top squad team from Guatemala at Stoke Mandeville Stadium to launch the charity's Wheels of Change campaign.

Continuing

I make donations to charities that approach me in the street or that do door-to-door, and I participate in fundraising events. I also plan to donate some old wheelchairs I have to people in Guatemala.

At the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, after beating the USA 85-77 to win bronze, Andy announced his retirement, saying

There's no better way to go out than winning a medal.

Recollections

When Andy was announced as team captain in 2003, GB Coach David Titmuss said

Blakey is a warrior and when you are competing against the very best in the world the difference between winning and losing can often be the character of your athletes. … Andy is an intelligent and gutsy competitor who is respected for doing many of the things that never show up on a stats sheet. He leads by example.

In 2004, Andy said:

This year I had the enormous privilege of leading the GB Paralympic basketball team as we battled it out in Athens. I'm proud of our bronze and hope to get some revenge on the Australians next time. I might not be able to walk; but there's nothing else I can't do.

Going on to talk about the need for more wheelchair accessible homes:

The house I lived in was not fit for purpose. It was inaccessible and inappropriate; the design and layout - totally ridiculous. I couldn't even invite friends around for dinner as the kitchen was a no-go area for wheelchairs. The four walls around me meant that I was needlessly dependent on other people. Sometimes I felt like a prisoner. My only "crime" was to be disabled. Can you imagine how frustrating that feeling is?

He continued:

Disabled people face a housing shortage; finding a house is similar to entering a lucky dip - and winning a lucky dip is a matter of chance. There is a shortfall of 300,000 wheelchair-accessible homes. This is not a problem that is going to go away. As the number of disabled people continues to increase, so the situation worsens.

Achievements and awards

Paralympic Games

Andy’s gold swimming medal came at the Seoul 1988 Paralympic Games in the Men's 50m Freestyle 3 event.

At the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games, he won bronze in the Men’s Tournament wheelchair basketball, alongside teammates, Ade Adepitan, Matt Byrne, Terry Bywater, Peter Finbow, Kevin Hayes, Fred Howley, Stuart Jellows, Simon Munn, Jonathan Pollock, Colin Price and Sinclair Thomas.

Going on to repeat that win at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games with teammates, Joseph Bestwick, Simon Brown, Matthew Byrne, Terence Bywater, Peter Finbow, Jonathan Hall, Kevin Hayes, Abdillah Jama, Simon Munn, Ade Orogbemi and Jon Pollock. 

References

  • https://www.paralympic.org/andrew-blake
  • http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/other_sports/disability_sport/7618694.stm
  • https://www.thirdsector.co.uk/fundraising-news-why-i-give-andy-blake/article/621448
  • https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/andy-blake-what-use-is-a-house-if-you-can-t-get-to-the-front-door-550769.html
  • https://www.theguardian.com/society/2004/dec/01/guardiansocietysupplement
  • http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/other_sports/disability_sport/2979332.stm
  • http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/newsid_7650000/newsid_7651800/7651876.stm
  • https://www.livability.org.uk/about-us/our-story/
  • http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/other