If people say it can’t be done, I’ll find a way to do it

Blog post posted on 14/09/20 |

Dr Andy Arnott has been a member of IAM RoadSmart since 2018 and has a long association with the National Association of Bikers with a Disability (NABD).  A member of Cheddar Valley Advanced Motorcyclists, he worked with Richard Gladman, Head of Driving and Riding Standards recently to forge a new partnership between IAM RoadSmart and the NABD to encourage more bikers with disabilities to get become Advanced Riders.

I’ve always been a square peg in a round hole. And when someone tells me something can’t be done, I always look for a way to do it.

While at university in Bristol I hit a diesel spill and my foot got trapped under my bike. It ended up at really unnatural angle and after a month of traction and the possibility of losing it, I persuaded my consultant to put in a metal plate. That did the trick and I made a good recovery.

Talking to other people who, due to similar injuries were facing amputation and prosthetics, I realised how fortunate I was and just how close we all are to a life-changing injury.

I’m an incredibly active person who likes to take risks. Calculated risks. While living and working in Hong Kong, I joined the British Sub Aqua Club and the International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers (IANTD) and trained and qualified to be able to do 200 feet dives.

Most people are limited to 60ft or 100ft. I was really pushing the boundaries but I was confident I had the skills and knowledge to do it safely.

Another diver followed me on my deep dive. He ended up with nitrogen narcosis and my dive turned into a rescue mission as I decompressed him slowly to bring him safely back to the surface, sharing my oxygen as he’d used all his up in his panic. Although I never even got his name, it was a timely reminder that training and experience are vital to do something safely.

That was a lesson I had learned a few years earlier, when – by chance or good fortune – I was saved from death or serious injury after a bus ploughed into my usual bus stop. It killed three people. And if it hadn’t been for an urgent errand, I would have been there. It made me realise my ticket hadn’t come up and rather than making me shy away from things that might be dangerous I went out of my way to embrace it. I mean dangerous to the uninitiated. It’s been the same for everything I’ve done, if you’re going to do it - do it properly.

I’ve always loved bikes. The first vehicle I ever bought was an old BSA and I’ve owned a bike ever since. I’ve not always bothered with a second vehicle but when I have had one, it’s usually been a van. I was in a band at university, playing bass and drums, acting as road crew and sound engineer. The man with the van is always in demand.

As a rebellious youth, I completed under-17 bike training off-road with the local police force and when I joined the Royal Engineers, before other trade training, I trained as a paramedic, completing my blue light driving test in Germany while stationed there.

My dad was in the RAF so we travelled around when I was young and apparently I could speak German before I spoke English. Stationed in Germany during my own military career, I discovered those language skills came back easily – after a pint or two in the pub.

I passed my Advanced Rider test in October 2018. The certificate hangs proudly on the wall of my vehicle repair workshop. While I’ve never quite got round to doing my Advanced Driver test, as the owner of a vintage Austin Healey Frogeye Sprite which has completed the Prescott Hill Climb and beat the lap time the Top Gear team did at Castle Coombe, I’d like to do that too.

My relationship with the NABD goes back a little further. I was attending their You’ve Been Nabbed nationally rally and they needed volunteer marshals. I figured the least I could do in return for a great biking weekend was to give a couple of hours of my time to marshal. I’ve done it now for around 15 years.

I realised there were a lot of bikers with disabilities who would like to get involved but thought Advanced Rider training wasn’t for them. When I met a fellow ex-squaddie, he told me how he was prevented from riding his bike after he lost an arm. It wasn’t that he couldn’t but peoples’ perceptions were that he shouldn’t.

He’s now got a race license and is a qualified CBT motorbike instructor and IAM RoadSmart member. He was told he shouldn’t go near a bike but in reality he’s more capable than many. Being a square peg in a round hole myself I know that if people say it can’t be done, it’s probably just that they don’t know how. 

I hope this partnership between IAM RoadSmart and the NABD will encourage more people, of all abilities, to take their Advanced Rider qualification. For me, it’s more about the journey of understanding and awareness we can take people on, than the destination.

I hope we can collaborate on a version of the recently published Neurodiversity Guide for physical disabilities and if we can get more people to think before they tell someone else they can’t do something, then we will have achieved a great deal. Remember, life isn’t a dress rehearsal you only get one chance.