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Former rehab patient set to flex his pecs in disabled bodybuilding comp

Usually, when Andy Harrison, 54, enters bodybuilding competitions, he always comes last.

More than 20 years ago, the keen amateur triathlete was cycling on a road when a car hurtling along at 100km/h ploughed into him from behind. The damage was immense.
 
Andy was a carpenter in the airforce at the time, and his condition was so serious they began planning his funeral.

But after days in a coma with a brain haemorrhage, months with amnesia and a year-and-a-half in a rehabilitation unit, he recovered.
 
 
Today, Andy has multiple disabilities, including an acquired brain injury and some paralysis to the left side of his body. He becomes fatigued easily too.

It was during his stay in rehab that his "bust up" knees and plummeting weight (he dropped to 43 kilograms) convinced him to find an non-aerobic exercise alternative, and he started lifting weights.
 
 
A poster advertising a body-building competition caught his interest a decade ago, and his losing streak began.

Natural bodybuilding, as competitors call it, is steroid-free bodybuilding that focuses on muscle definition rather than bulk.
 
 
But it also values symmetry, which is where Andy found himself dropping points.

His paralysis affects the way he stands and he also has surgical scarring on his left leg and a bulge on his calve.

Now, for the first time in Australia, a natural bodybuilding competition, run by iCompete Natural (ICN) will feature a category for people with disabilities, in a Melbourne titles competition at Moonee Valley Racecourse. A Victorian title will follow.

Disability categories for weightlifters are common thing in the US, where Andy has travelled half-a-dozen times to compete (where he usually comes third, and won once) in a smaller organization.

The ICN category is called "physically challenged", and has both a wheelchair and standing division. The UK also has an emerging bodybuilding scene for people with disabilities.

And it's another quiet victory for people with disabilities, particularly those acquired brain injuries says Andy. Because his disabilities aren't immediately apparent, people sometimes treat him differently when he tells them his story.

"Especially with a brain injury, they assume that you are a bit lacking. I try and emphasise that it's not they way they think it is. We can live full lives."

But these attitudes are changing: "People are more aware of it now, they don't treat you like a leper anymore. They have come around to the fact there are disabled people in the community who want to take part."

The focus on muscular definition means Andy, who is married with two teenage daughters, is very careful with his diet. Quinoa and eggs feature heavily in family meals and he drinks protein shakes.

Because his acquired brain injury means he fatigues easily, he also has to be careful not to train hard when he is feeling tired.

The conventional focus on symmetry in bodybuilding is a negative one, Andy says. "They aspire to do things their bodies are not really capable of. Bodies are always a bit asymmetrical, nobody is perfect." Original source: The Age Victoria