'I'd a bad crash, then dad died, I felt my world was over'
Despite injury and the loss of his inspirational father, Co Antrim motorcyclist Andy Reid is back in the fast lane and winning trophies, writes Helen Carson
Champion motorcyclist, Andy Reid (21), from Carrickfergus, cannot remember a time when he wasn't on two wheels. "I was on a bike with stabilisers before I could walk," he says.
Now the professional motorcyclist, who currently rides for Traction Control (Yamaha), which is owned by Keith Flint from the Prodigy, is a contender for the top title in his sport - and he won't stop until he is world champion.
Andy lives with his long-term girlfriend, Chloe (21), whom he met on his second day at Belfast High School, describing her as his "childhood sweetheart", and counts another Carrick motorcyling hero, Alistair Seeley, as a good friend and mentor.
He knows, though, that the life he is enjoying now and his success as a rider would never have happened without the dedication and sacrifices made by both his parents.
As he approaches the peak of his championship dreams, it is a bittersweet time, as he won't ever be able to share his future triumphs on the circuit with his beloved dad, Adrian, who passed away in 2012 - shortly after Andy suffered a devastating bike crash which nearly ended his career.
Having suffered a catastrophic injury and then losing his dad, Andy felt that all his childhood dreams were over: "Everything I loved in the world was gone."
Growing up in Jordanstown, his mum, Paula and his late father, Adrian, sacrificed everything so that he could pursue his passion for riding bikes. "When I was a kid I had no idea what they did to make sure I could compete in motocross. My mum took on two or three jobs so that I had everything that I needed to take part," he says.
"They re-mortgaged our house and my dad sold his collection of cars, which included BMWs, to buy a beaten-up car and trailer to take me to events. He also converted a van to provide accommodation for me as I travelled up and down England to events.
"He put a cooker and bed in it to make it more comfortable for us when we were on the road to competitions."
Andy was seven when he got his first motorbike: "I was a toddler when I rode my first two-wheeled bicycle and from then on it was just bikes, bikes, bikes for me. I watched bikes on TV - I was absorbed by it and I knew that was I wanted to do."
But he did have to do some lobbying within his family to get a motorbike: "Everyone in my family knew I wanted a motorbike, but it was my nanny who eventually said 'For goodness sake, get that child a motorbike'. If it wasn't for her, I probably wouldn't have got one."
Andy's dad salvaged all the pieces from a scrapyard to build a Yamaha PW800, getting it running well - much to his young son's joy.
"I spent all my time riding the bike in the back garden, but just two months later before my eighth birthday I wanted something faster," he says.
His parents saved up for a new bike this time, buying Andy a KX65 which was just the beginning of what would be several years of motocross success.
His parents also made sure he got every opportunity wherever that was in the world to progress in motorsport: "My mum found a ranch in California called Motocross Heaven so she sent me there when I was 10 years old. It must have cost them about £5,000 and she flew with me to Heathrow Airport in London, then she got a flight home to Belfast.
"I was put on plane to LA for the 14-hour flight and arrived in America with no details of where I was going, so I was detained at US immigration for about four hours. Luckily, I saw some others who looked like they were carrying motocross gear so I approached them and they were going to the same place. I got the chance to ride at some of the most prestigious courses in the world because my mum wanted me to have that experience."
While it was Andy's childhood passion for bikes which revealed his speed credentials in motocross, an horrific crash when riding a superbike in Spain, aged 18, was nearly the end of the road for his riding ambitions.
"I was living in Manchester at the time and training hard with a personal trainer, six days a week, twice a day to get really fit. I flew out to Spain in February and it was my second day on the track at Cartagena. It had been raining all morning and no-one was on the track. After three laps I crashed and snapped my femur in half - it was my worst injury to date."
Andy was hospitalised in Spain where the break had to be repaired with surgical screws. The broken leg meant Andy's riding career seemed to be over, and for just under two years he struggled with adjusting to a completely new life. But there was worse to come, when his dad, Adrian passed away just months later.
"I felt like my world was over. The biking world is like a family, it's a lifestyle and I had known nothing else. I wasn't in the best mental shape. Even just knowing what to do with myself was a challenge. It was a really, really tough time for me and my family."
A keen artist, Andy retrained as a tattooist and getting back to work helped him regain his confidence and lust for life again.
"Growing up as a kid who took part in motocross, I missed a lot of childhood experiences. There wasn't time to play with my mates as I was training or travelling to an event. When I was injured I was able to go out and have a drink and do all those things that I had missed out on."
But the riding world had not forgotten about the young man from Northern Ireland who tore it up on the circuit in previous years, clocking up some of the fastest course speed records ever.
"I was working at the tattoo parlour in Antrim when I got a call out of the blue from a guy I knew who owned a team which was competing at the British Championship. He called me and said his rider had been badly injured and he had no-one to ride the bike at Brands Hatch, and would I like to do it.
"I had no racing licence, I didn't even have any leathers. He told me to get the licence and they would sort the rest out for me.
"It was a surreal moment when I went back out on the road again, but the moment I put my leg over a bike and felt my knee on the ground again as I took a corner, I knew I was back. I thought to myself, 'Why would I ever not think of doing this again?' It was awesome."
Andy knew he would have to build up his career again, but it didn't take long before he was attracting attention for all the right reasons.
"I was racing at Oulton Park in Liverpool and I couldn't wait to get back on the bike again. I won, beating the nearest contender by 27 seconds, which is phenomenal in circuit racing - usually it is half a second which separates first and second placed riders. I had been away for two years so to come back and start winning competitions was amazing."
His success continued in Holland where he gave the world-class Dutch riders a run for their money, just losing out on first place in the British Championship. His performance didn't go unnoticed and he was approached by Milwaukee Tools with a two-year contract deal.
"It was a really positive start to my first year back. It was crazy - what that meant was that I was a professional motorcyclist. When I was a child I dreamed about being good enough to do this for a living, and now I do.
"I had gone from lying on the sofa thinking I was never going to race again to being a winner."