Andy Reid is a determined character.
His resolute recovery from the devastating wounds he got when he stood on an improvised explosive device has, I’m sure, reinforced that trait.
Talking with him about his story though, it is clear that he has always had a tenacious attitude to whatever life throws at him.
The first real test of his mettle presented itself when he was very young.
“I’ve always dealt with adversity all my life,” he told me. “As a five year old, I was in a car accident. I broke my leg in three places. I struggled through school myself. Then I had the challenge of being turned away from the army because of my weight and having to work hard to achieve that goal of getting in the army. The injury was just another challenge: What now in the life of Andy Reid? I think I’ve always had that mindset of working hard to get where I want to be.”
He didn’t know it, but Andy’s early life would serve as good training for dealing with the aftermath of what happened in Afghanistan.
His mother lost her leg in that car crash during his childhood.
“I had a big insight into what it’s like to be an amputee. My mum just brought me and my three sisters up. We lived in a three-storey Victorian house with no stair-lift or wet room or nothing. I thought I’m supposed to be a big tough soldier and my mum brought us up, so I had better just get on with it.”
So Andy did exactly that.
After just two weeks in a British hospital, he made his first trip home to St Helens.
Within a month of the explosion, the corporal was able to meet up with members of his patrol again.
Since then, the triple amputee has set about thanking the charities that helped him through a variety of fundraising adventures.
He’s been so prolific, most members of the Granada Reports team have met him at least once.
I first spoke to him in August 2010 as he was about to set off on a 600-mile trike ride.
“It’s mainly just to show the general public that if you have been injured you can carry on,” he told me at the time.
He had only just learned how to walk using his prosthetic legs.
Yet something told me there would be no stopping him.
Three years later, when we next met, he was abseiling 200ft down The Big One in Blackpool using just one arm.
It total, he’s raised at least £200,000 for armed forces charities and helped countless people to think positively by sharing his story about overcoming adversity.
His voluntary work earned Andy a trip to Buckingham Palace which prompted the father-of-two to ponder how he could make even more of a difference.
“Being from a town from St Helens with the highest suicide rate for men in the country, a lot of deprived areas, I thought I’ve got this voice now. Being awarded the MBE last year gives me a bit of status people listen to what I’ve got to say. I thought its about time I did something for my own town, my own community and the north west in general.”
So Andy has set up the Standing Tall Foundation, a community interest company, to further his charitable aims.
He originally planned to launch the organisation in September with the support of local businesses but the coronavirus pandemic made the need more urgent.
Leon House, a private mental health clinic he helped open in Manchester last year, suggested providing free mental health treatment for NHS and care workers on the front line.
So Andy launched the foundation early to take advantage of the offer, understanding the psychological pressures all too well.
Like many, he admits this year has taken its toll.
Covid restrictions emptied his diary of public speaking dates – events he considers therapeutic.
“Talking about the journey I’ve been on, having lost friends and been injured myself, helps me download it out of my mind and helps me deal with it. So in this current situation I’ve struggled myself. I’ve spoken to a therapist myself because I’ve not been able to tell my story. So I’d really encourage anybody who’s struggling with their mental health to just speak to somebody about it.”
Andy plans big things for 2021.
His foundation will continue its work giving laptops to the increasing number of pupils who need technology to learn away from school.
Its Wellbeing In The Woods programme will lead youngsters, vulnerable people, care leavers and veterans into a natural environment.
They will learn skills like shelter building and no doubt a well-stoked campfire will give them a forum to talk.
He will be aiming to reach new heights too – but I am sworn to secrecy about that for now.
If, as is likely, you want to consign 2020 to the bottom drawer of history, Andy’s stories, plans and sheer optimism provide hope.
There is a way to overcome the most difficult of challenges.
Take it from someone who knows.
“Everyone has gone through this pandemic together. Everyone’s feeling anxiety, depressed, a bit down about it. We’re all in the same situation so we can all speak to each other about it. That’s the most important thing to do.”
Originally published on the ITV.com website
Credit: ITV Granada/Andy Bonner