Interview Of The Week with Andrew Gregory: Disability doesn’t mean giving up

Andrew Gregory started a long and painful journey after his motorcycle accident. He dealt with unbearable pain, walked with a cane and lived on antidepressants for years. Then his left leg was amputated. Today he is a world champion para-poler, professional pole performer, teacher and the Male Athlete of the Year by IPSF (International Pole Sports Federation).

“Your body is incredible”

Why the pole?

I first started pole about 5 years ago. I went to a dance studio (London Dance Academy) to try antigravity yoga. I was looking for an exercise class that I could do following a motorcycle accident that had caused massive injury to my lower left leg. At the studio they held pole dance classes and I was fascinated by them but thought my leg would cause too many problems. Eventually I gave it a go and I was immediately hooked. The tricks were really exciting. Walking was causing me a large amount of pain but when I was off the floor and up on the pole it wasn’t so bad. I felt much more free to move and I hated that I then had to use a walking stick to get home.

Two and a half years ago I made the decision to amputate my leg. It sounds strange but I did it to be able to do more and be in less pain. I also made the decision that I would keep doing pole. I wanted to prove to myself that disability doesn’t mean giving up.

How did you become a professional poler?

I already knew about the IPSF world pole championships and that they had a para-pole competition. I decided to challenge myself and applied. It was the best decision I ever made. Competition prep changes how you pole, especially with IPSF. They have strict rules on your routine, shapes have to be perfect, at the correct angle to the judge, everything has a point value… It made me much more aware of technique.

It was during the prep for this competition that I wondered if I could teach. Would people take me seriously as an amputee teaching able bodied polers? I took a teacher training course but didn’t tell anyone. I told myself that if I did well at the world championships I would seriously think about teaching classes. After winning a gold medal and being awarded male athlete of the year, I proposed a class to the studio owner. I wanted to offer a class for guys that focused on tricks and not choreography. A lot of guys are not interested in that side of pole, and so Pole Lads was born.

I never started this journey with the aim of turning professional but it was slowly starting to happen.

The final step happened in February. I wanted to compete against polers with no disability. I really wanted to be seen as a performer, not a disabled performer.

After winning at Pole Theatre, I am now considered professional. I have since given paid performances and also judged a competition.

Unfortunately the pandemic has hit the pause button on competitions and performances. I can’t wait for them to start again!

So you are living proof that pole is for everyone and it is not a bad thing which is how it has been seen for so many years…

Pole has really changed my life in many ways. Dealing with catastrophic injury meant years of depression and antidepressants, body image problems and lack of confidence. I no longer need medication as my mental health has improved immensely with the exercise that pole provides. I have a much better relationship with my body. I used to hate it but now I love it and what it is capable of! It’s also made me incredibly fit and strong, which is a great place to be as I rapidly approach 50.

I want other people to feel the benefits, the mental and physical improvements, that doing pole has given me. The pole world is amazing – it is accepting of everyone – every shape, size, race, ability, disability, sexuality…

Has the J-Lo film Hustlers and social media helped to promote pole?

The J-Lo movie had a huge impact, everybody was talking about it and so many people wanted to learn the J-Lo routine!

Also social media definitely helps. People can really see all the different sides of pole now, from exotic and stripper style to the crazy acrobatic side. Pole is a great workout and a very good way to keep yourself fit. It takes a LOT of practice but you can learn some really cool tricks and it’s so much fun.

Pole is finally getting popular among guys as well. Most of them find it hard to get started because it’s still seen as feminine but once they try it, they love it.

There is a style of pole to suit everyone and people are finally realizing it.

What does a world champion athlete’s day look like?

My days are pretty full! I’m a hairdresser and my business has always been very busy. My clients book months in advance but because I’m the boss, I can manage bookings while still having pole time.

I practice a lot, generally 3-4 hours a day, 5 days a week. I usually start work at 8am and I work until 5pm. Then I train pole 6-10pm. I tend to do a mixture of strength, stretch and technique.

What is the best and the hardest part of teaching/doing pole?

The best is achieving things that I never thought possible. Moments like being awarded Male Athlete Of The Year by IPSF and winning at Pole Theatre against non-disabled polers.

The hardest part of teaching is keeping the classes interesting for both the students and for me; keeping up to date on the latest tricks and then teaching them. The hardest part about performing is controlling my nerves!

What are your plans for the future?

I’m working with an amazing prosthetic artist on a leg especially for me to use with the pole. I’ve just finished a second film project which should be ready soon. Next year I will be competing again with both IPSF and IPC, and I’m also teaching at my first pole camp. There are busy times ahead!

Last but not least what is your message to the world?

Use your body! It needs to move, to exercise – whatever your ability or disability. Your body is incredible!

And for those who are debating trying pole: just do it! It is way less scary than you think. You don’t need to be strong or flexible or a dancer. All of that comes with the learning process.

Andrew’s IG: @tattoo_pole_boy

Photo credit: @shotonstage

andrew inside.jpg

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