Sheffield Steelkings para ice hockey player Andy Atkinson has been nominated for two Yorkshire Choice Awards.
The 51-year-old is the ice hockey league’s only triple amputee, playing with just his left arm.
The Yorkshire Choice Awards celebrate the achievements of individuals, businesses and organisations who are an inspiration in their field – Andy has been nominated for both the Kate Granger Award for outstanding contribution and the Inspirational Individual Award.
The Kate Granger Award recognises people who have gone the extra mile and given significant and lasting contributions to others.
It says: “Each of these amazing people listed have put their own battles aside to see something positive in each day, even if they had to look a little harder than most.”
Steelkings have also been nominated for the Sporting Achievement of the year award.
Andy first played ice hockey in 2014 when the Steelkings began and he went along with a friend. After a break for paternity leave he has been playing solidly with the team for the last two seasons.
Andy has coached wheelchair sports for 25 years, teaching Ireland wheelchair rugby, and currently coaching Calderdale wheelchair basketball team in Halifax. He also supports Halifax wheelchair rugby team and sledge hockey is currently his main sport.
Upon reflection of playing sports with a severe disability and being the only triple amputee in the league, Andy said: “Everything to me I see as a hurdle and I think I can get over it or through it.
“My right arm is off on my elbow so I have quite a lot of movement of the shoulder- we all have sticks fastened to our arms.”
Andy uses a prosthetic to push his wheelchair, which his hockey stick is fastened to, but only shoots with his left arm, the real arm.
He says the technique for ice hockey is similar to that which he has previously used playing wheelchair sport, but more learning is required and balance is the biggest challenge.
“I used to swim and go round in circles – just learning how to balance with that – it took me about three weeks to sort it out.”
Andy said it’s an “honour and a privilege” to be nominated for the awards by his fellow teammates.
“It’s really amazing to be nominated, to be seen that I’m an inspiration – I don’t see myself as an inspiration I just get on with it.”
Andy rates the inclusivity of sledge hockey, which is “basically the same rules [as ice hockey] but with people sat on baking trays.”
All genders and abilities are welcome including able-bodied players, which means family can play with their disabled family members, although able bodied players can’t play at GB level.
Andy has been doing inspirational talks in schools for two years now, and was previously a youth worker for Leeds City Council.
“Most kids will only see someone in a wheelchair if they see someone on the street, or family. It exposes youth to the idea of being disabled – having fun but realising that some people have to be in a wheelchair 24/7.”
Andy believes that sport can be “adapted to anyone,” and is not just about the game itself, but about the social contact and learning to be a team player.
“The Steelkings are really family oriented – everybody looks out for everybody – I’ve never played in a family that tightknit.”
Andy said sport has always been his lifeline, and he has learned not to let his disability hold him back.
“Having a disability, it’s not being seen as disabled, it’s being able – I’m able to do this. Everything I look at it’s like, I’m able to do this. It’s not a disadvantage – it’s all about perseverance.”
“I was born with no legs, one arm and ginger hair. I was getting bullied at school and I started football – the bullying stopped. It’s been my outlet for when I’ve been in dark places – sport is my life.”
The Kate Granger nomination recognises Andy’s incredible determination after growing up in care with a severe disability, and after facing bulling at school before leaving with no qualifications.
It praises how he has used his passion for sport to change the direction of his life and go on to coach and play for the Steelkings as they completed the British Para Ice Hockey double, winning both the League and the Playoff championships.
Voting for the Yorkshire Choice Awards nominees is open until 1 February and winners will be announced at an awards dinner on Saturday 14 March 2020 at The Centenary Pavilions, Elland Road, Leeds.
You can vote in the Awards here: https://www.yorkshirechoiceawards.co.uk/votehere