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Virgin Islander Brings Adaptive Sports to Territory; Ranked Number 12 in World for Para-Cycling

Andrew Hairston caught in candid photo during the first AdaptVI clinic in St Thomas in August 2022. (Photo by Oneg Plisner, U.S. Marine Corps)

Andrew Hairston, the visionary of Salvage Life, a nonprofit organization with the goal of providing adaptive sports clinics and education in the Virgin Islands, is currently preparing to compete in the 2024 Boston Marathon and, later, the Para-cycling World Cups in Belgium and Italy.

Hairston, who experienced a life-altering accident in 2021, found himself thrust into the world of adaptive sports. “While in the process of transferring his furniture to a new home, a mattress fell out of the bed of his truck. As he was loading it back into the vehicle, he was hit by a reckless driver. Doctors were able to salvage his right leg, but his left leg had to be amputated above the knee. Through the support of the military and various nonprofits, he was able to utilize sports therapy to remain active and even compete in various athletic competitions. He felt that sports restored his life mentally and psychologically. Impassioned by his quick recovery and penchant for para-sports, Hairston founded Salvage Life in hopes of inspiring the disabled community in the Virgin Islands to remain active and to consider pursuing the therapy that participating in adaptive sports can offer”, according to Hairston’s website.

When Hairston became interested in pursuing a career as a para-athlete, he quickly fell in love with hand cycling and found that he had a natural inclination for the sport. In July of 2021, he traveled to New York City and participated in his first competition at the Achilles International Hope and Possibility 4-mile race in Central Park, where he placed third. He found that cycling brought him a sense of fulfillment and freedom, and he enjoyed the adrenaline that came with moving upwards of 40 mph on a cycle. “It was the first time since my accident that I actually felt like my old self again. My accident didn’t stop me from going out and placing third in my first-ever race. Cycling made me feel like I wasn’t limited by my disability. After that first race, I would go out and race with other athletes, both para and able-bodied, and found that I had the capacity to not only keep up with both but, in some cases, beat them,” said Hairston.

Andrew Hairston competes in wheelchair basketball at the 2022 DoD Warrior Games. (Photo courtesy U.S. Marine Corps)

In May of 2023, Hairston traveled to Huntsville, Alabama, and competed in the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Para-cycling World Cup #3, where he became the first Virgin Islander to compete at an international cycling event. He would then go on to compete in the 2024 UCI World Cup #1 in Australia and secure the ranking of number 12 in the world for his class in cycling, thus qualifying him to participate in the 2024 Paralympics.

Andrew Hairston becomes the first Virgin Islander to compete in a Union Cycliste Internationale race at the 2023 UCI Para-cycling World Cup #3 in Huntsville, AL. (Photo courtesy city of Huntsville, Al)

As Hairston prepares for his realized dream of competing in the Paralympic Games this year, he intends on participating in the Boston Marathon and World Cups in Belgium and Italy in hopes of securing a higher ranking for the USVI. Recently, the USVI was reranked at 50th place in the world after Hairston’s remarkable performance in Australia improved the territory’s placement.

Hairston’s commitment to bringing adaptive sports to the V.I. is fueled by the way his own experience with adaptive sports has enriched his life. “It’s fun getting to getting to compete, but my adaptive sports clinics hosted by my nonprofit Salvage Life is the most fulfilling part of this journey. At the end of the day, I want people to see that it is still possible to enjoy life regardless of your situation. My long-term goal is to prepare adaptive athletes in the Virgin Islands for competition at the Paralympic level”, said Hairston.

One of the obstacles that Hairston faces with his nonprofit, as well as his Paralympic pursuits, is funding. “Adaptive sports is considered a niched industry that often requires custom equipment to be made in order to ensure that the equipment properly fits the para-athlete’s needs. As such, the equipment costs can become overwhelming very quickly”, said Hairston. In addition to the financial support needed for critical resources, Hairston seeks funding to help offset the costs of traveling internationally to compete in the upcoming World Cups.

Hairston believes that with the support and engagement of the community, adaptive sports have the capacity to offer disabled people in the Virgin Islands new opportunities to be active, experience the value of sports therapy, and create a tighter community.

Businesses that are interested in donating can visit the Salvage Life official website.

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