TT OLYMPIC sailor, Andrew Lewis has urged athletes to use their challenges as catalysts to keep pushing on.
Lewis made these inspirational remarks during the second webinar hosted by motivational speaker Don La Foucade and himself, entitled "Positive Moments with Andrew and Don" via Zoom on Wednesday.
During the 75-minute chat between the pair, Lewis took viewers on a trip back to 2015 when he was involved in a career-threatening incident in Brazil, mere months away from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The 30-year old emotionally reflected on this experience, as he revealed how this challenge served to be one of his weakest but most intimate life-changing moments of his sporting career.
In December 2015, Lewis was training in Rio de Janeiro ahead of the Copa Brasil Championships. He was also using this time to acclimatise himself with the country’s varying winds, water and currents.
The laser class sailor had just left his apartment en route to training when he suddenly realised he forgot his key. Using his tall Dutch training partner as a boost, Lewis stealthily climbed over the wall of his apartment complex when tragedy struck.
On his way down, a small roof fell onto Lewis, tumbling him to the ground. He was then admitted to a nearby hospital where it was revealed by doctors he suffered two broken ribs, a broken fibula and tibia and in dire need of facial reconstruction due to a broken jaw.
With the Olympics just a few months away, Lewis was devastated and questioned whether he would be able to represent TT at the impending Summer Games. It was at this very moment that Lewis opted to lay his fate and faith in the Almighty. He was determined to overcome this obstacle.
“As soon as I realised what had happened to me, faith was in my right hand," he said. "I don’t necessarily mean faith in religion but I mean belief. Faith that I could come through this and that I would continue to live and not die. That alone was enough for me to start the process of what I call an opportunity to life. This was a message.”
Lewis spoke about his experiences at the Miguel Couto Municipal Hospital in Rio de Janeiro, such as being warded alongside patients who passed away and violent drug users. He then began to build relationships with the nurses and doctors, learn bits of Portuguese and eagerly anticipated his father David’s daily one-hour visits.
Soon after, the talented sailor received his cellphone and was not able to connect with family and friends in TT and abroad. However, these minor comforts would soon be put to the test following an array of surgeries, sleepless nights and intense body pain. There were many points during his recovery period, Lewis felt like giving up.
“I couldn’t move my jaw and face so I was unable to eat," Lewis related. "I couldn’t breathe properly either as there was fluid in my lung. When I was going for my first leg surgery to put in a steel rod, screws and wire, the bones rubbed together while being stretchered there.
I’ve never experienced pain like this before and I said to the Lord, ‘if this is my time, I have no problem going. You can take me now’. I’ve learnt that what doesn’t kill you, really makes you stronger,” he added.
After a welcome return to TT, Lewis was happy to be home, reunited with family and friends. Although elated, it was a bit overwhelming. During this stage, Lewis began to appreciate the simple pleasures of eating, walking and breathing, since these basic necessities had been taken away from him.
“The fact you’re alive, healthy and able to work is a miracle. We are all miracles. I left Brazil not knowing what was going to happen with my life, so many things in my body were out of order, I just didn’t know. I know however, faith was firing. I knew my purpose in life was to stay alive, believing and doing what I wanted to do,” he continued.
The Atlantic sport ambassador believes these aches and pains served as signs to stay strong and keep pushing on through thick and thin. While at West Shore Medical in Westmoorings, the sailor kept battling with mixed feelings fueled by mild depression and perseverance to survive it all.
Then one day, he received a call from La Foucade, who questioned Lewis’ current mindset during the trying time. Little did Lewis know, that this call would ignite a refined fire within himself to battle on toward a speedy recovery.
“Andrew said to me that he ‘felt like he was nowhere’. That word varies how you look at it, it is now here. Many times we go through life thinking that we’re nowhere. When we do that, we are not in control of ourselves, we’re just thinking that there’s no progress. I told him this was a part of the process and I would assist him with the help he needed,” said La Foucade.
Lewis used music, motivational movies and documentaries to re-inspire himself. He then began following a routine to build his confidence towards achieving his goal of walking, eating and breathing properly once more. He adopted this train of thought to bring himself out of that sadness. Slowly but surely, his body began to respond positively.
“My wife challenged me to walk another step every day. Someone brought me a wheelchair and I didn’t use it because I was intent on walking again. A wheelchair would have slowed me down as it was not a part of my plan. Not everyone wanted to listen but I kept telling them to trust in me. I visited places like the gym and sea knowing I would be back one day,” Lewis declared.
By February 2016, the warrior-athlete was back at the gym and resumed hiking. Although not as strong as before, he had to conquer his fears.
One month later, he returned to the waters and cried uncontrollably, before and after his first sail.
“It was like no other moment but I always believed it would get to this,” he said.
In April, the TT Olympic Committee told him if he competed in 10 races at the World Championships, he would qualify for the Rio Games. Lewis did and eventually qualified.
“Going back to Brazil for a reason to compete in my second Olympic Games was hard. The ocean was wild with big waves, big currents and tough conditions. I even asked myself what I was doing here. But I was there because the Almighty wanted me to get stronger for the Tokyo Olympics. These messages don’t come to you right away. We are all miracles. What we do with it is our choice. My choice was to continue going with faith,” Lewis concluded.
The third webinar hosted by Lewis and La Foucade gets underway on Saturday from 4pm.