Paralympic snowboarder Andre Barbieri takes part in a sport that cost him his leg
The Brazilian athlete unofficially represents Santa Barbara
By John Zant | February 10, 2022
Andre Barbieri calls March 11 his “ampuversary” – celebrating the day in 2011 when a snowboarding accident cost him his left leg.
It became an occasion to celebrate because so much goodness bloomed from Barbieri’s misfortune. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he embraced a spirit of euphoria that spread like a mild infection among many who came to know him.
Thanks to their support and his own athletic resilience, Barbieri will travel to Beijing next month to compete in the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games. He is a para-snowboarder for Brazil, his native country. Unofficially, he will represent Santa Barbara, his adopted city for 15 years.
Barbieri, 40, must participate in two events: snowboard cross and bank slalom. He is especially looking forward to the slalom. “It’s like a video game,” he said, and he’ll come across his 11th “ampuversary.”
It might have been a date in his obituary if he hadn’t sped up to pass his older brother, Diego, that morning as they rode down a snowboard slope at Mammoth Mountain.
“I saw it all,” Diego recalls. “[Andre] hit the end of the fence sticking out as the snow had melted about a foot. He lost control, fell and hit a fence at mid-thigh height. It went ‘crack, crack!’ [The bone] protruded in the back, four inches above the knee. He said, ‘That’s pretty bad.’ ”
André had suffered a complex fracture of the femur and a severed femoral artery.
“After I got his snowboard out,” Diego said, “I tackled this guy and took his phone. ‘Sorry, I have to call for help.'” The rescue team came, put him a tourniquet and tied him to a sled.
Diego later realized, “If he hadn’t passed me, I would have continued down the mountain and he would have bled.”
Barbieri’s friends sent him to the Olympics with a personalized rock symbolizing his gritty determination. His new shock-absorbing prosthetic leg, the Moto Knee, was created by US Paralympic Team member Mike Schultz. | 1 credit
Andre was airlifted to a hospital in Reno, where he underwent four surgeries in five days. When it became clear that his leg would never work again, he agreed to have an above-knee amputation.
“My brother was next to me,” André recalls, “and I said, ‘I’m sorry I ruined our weekend.’ ”
Only a year and a half apart in age, Diego and Andre are best friends as well as brothers. They grew up in Lajeado, a town in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s southernmost state, sharing a border with Argentina. “People in our state are called gauchos,” André said.
Brazil is a huge country with a big appetite for sports, especially football. “There are a lot of people who don’t have much and don’t have much to live on,” Diego said. “A win when you’re competing – it means more than a prize for someone who doesn’t have much else to do in life.”
Luiz Barbieri, their father, is a truck dealer. “He was the football superstar in town, still playing at 70,” Diego said. “He could have gone further as a player, but he had a family to support. My mum said, ‘Why don’t you break your leg so we can feed the kids?’ “Ingrid, their mother, was an English teacher.
One of the boys’ heroes was Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian racing car champion. “He had a lot of charisma, ethos and personality, unlike football players who seemed arrogant,” Andre said. “Formula 1 racing was a religion until Senna died,” Diego said. A horrific accident claimed the driver’s life in 1994. “If he was injured and not dead, I feel like he would be like me,” André said. “They made a movie about him. It made me cry a lot. »
André’s road to recovery began at the Mesa Lane home he shared with his brother. Diego had been responsible for Andre’s move to Santa Barbara in 2007. “I was already here, manager of the Epiphany restaurant,” Diego said. “André wasn’t too happy with his work situation in Brazil. I told him, ‘Come here. I will hire you. “With work, there was surfing, which Diego and André enjoyed enormously, and the occasional snowboard.
Shortly after André’s accident, he was surrounded by his family and friends, including his mother, followed by his father and Karina Peil, his girlfriend, whom he had met at a physiotherapy school in Brazil in 2005. “When I heard about the accident, I prayed to God to allow him to be alive,” Peil said. “We need people like him to show what life is. “
Aside from the pain that accompanied André’s recovery, it was a joyful time. “Our family has a pretty bright outlook on life,” Diego said. “We are just happy people. We tend to look on the bright side. There are many more things [Andre] can only do things it cannot do.
In the prime of life, at age 30, Barbieri embarked on physical activity. He swam as soon as the staples were removed from his injured leg. He could pedal a bicycle with one leg. He acquired a leg prosthesis for walking, then a blade prosthesis for running.
He started competing in para-triathlon – swimming, cycling and running – and was good enough that he could dream of representing Brazil at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Many friends and acquaintances have dreamed with him, a slim (6’3” and 175 lbs) and bewitching athlete with a winning personality.
“It was crazy, the support I had,” he said at the time. “The Boathouse [where he used to work] did one fundraiser, my friends here did another, my friends in Brazil another. I was able to buy my first prosthetic leg. I cried every day; I was so emotional at the time. I feel like I will never repay this debt because of what everyone has done for me.
He trained by day and took a job as a taxi driver by night. But in one of the triathlons that would be key to qualifying for Rio, Barbieri was disqualified for a technical error. When the final standings came out before the Paralympics – there would be 10 athletes in his division of the triathlon competition – Barbieri was in 11th place.
“It was about the trip,” he said. “It brought me so much pleasure and joy, and inspiration for myself and for others.” Peil stayed with him throughout the trip. “Life is never boring with him,” she said. “We are in the same boat.” She and Barbieri married at Hendry’s Beach in October 2015.
When the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games program came out, Barbieri’s category in triathlon was not included. Scratch that dream. He did a lot of surfing – becoming adept enough to maneuver while standing on a kneeboard – and he found the courage to try snowboarding, which opened the door to the Paralympic Winter Games.
With a new shock-absorbing prosthetic leg, the Moto Knee – created by US Paralympic gold medalist Mike Schultz – Barbieri started racing on snowboards in 2018. He racked up enough points to make it to Beijing 2022 in the Brazilian team. It’s something he couldn’t have accomplished by staying in Brazil, where snow only exists in movies.
But his life has been too busy lately to spend much time on the slopes, Barbieri said. He worked for Hanger, a prosthetics company, as a development manager and community care coordinator. “I am able to give back,” he said. “I see patients before and after amputations. This is the most rewarding part of my job.
He and Peil, who works as a PT aide at Cottage Hospital, have two daughters – Stella, 3½, and Maile, born last year on March 11, Barbieri’s 10th “ampuversary”. The hardest part of being at the Paralympic Winter Games is that she will miss them – and her three-legged dog, Pogo – for a month and a half. He was traveling to British Columbia for intensive training last weekend and will not return from Beijing until March 15.
Barbieri’s list of sponsors includes Backyard Bowls, The Lab, Motion Unlimited and the PossAbilities team at Loma Linda University, for which he is an ambassador.
He also recently received a donation from his friends at Team Bad Joke, a group of about 20 men and women who meet twice a week to swim in the ocean off Leadbetter Beach. They know him as “Aunt Bait” because, as team co-founder Joe Howell explained, Barbieri was changing clothes after a swim one day when a woman approached him and asked. said, “My aunt wants you to know that she thinks you are handsome. ” The initials “AB” are also suitable.
After enduring a joke (Michael Crandell: “What’s the cookie capital of Brazil? Oreo de Janeiro”), the team presented Barbieri with a personalized rock, symbolizing his gritty determination, painted in the colors of Brazil. “Snowboarding cost me my leg, almost cost me my life, but it’s a joy to get back into it,” he tells them. “I don’t care if I finish last. I did it.”
WHERE TO SEE
The Paralympic Winter Games will be held March 4-13 at the same venue as the Beijing Winter Olympics (February 4-20). They will receive extensive coverage on NBC, including seven hours on the main network and all televised events on Peacock. The United States will cover the opening and closing ceremonies.
Barbieri is aware of the controversy over hosting the Games as China is accused of massive human rights abuses. “Most of us don’t agree with what’s going on,” he said. “If I put my full attention on it, I might not choose to go. I will do it for sports. Enjoy the Paralympic Games for what they are.
Snowboard Paralympic Events
Snowboard cross (March 6-7): A snowboarding competition that consists first of all of a time trial: three runs on a course, only one rider at a time, the best run determining their placement for head-to-heads. “Monster Mike” Schultz, a 40-year-old Minnesotan who lost his left leg in a snowboarding accident in 2008, won the event at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang.
Banked slalom (March 11-12): Each athlete gets three runs on the course, with the best run determining the final results based on increasing time. There is only one runner on the course at a time. The route can be a medium slope, preferably on naturally variable terrain, with lots of bumps and dips, in a U-shaped/natural valley. American Noah Elliott won gold in 2018, four years after losing his left leg to cancer aged 17.