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Advantage Andy: Para pickleball champion remodels home around Stiltz Homelift

Para pickleball champion, Andy McErlean, 54, from Waterlooville near Portsmouth, has recently chosen a Stiltz Trio+ Homelift as the centrepiece to his remodelled contemporary and accessible home.

Andy is a professional sportsman living with lower limb paralysis and is a full-time, active wheelchair user. As a soldier stationed on his first post in Hamburg, Andy was injured in a serious car crash aged 19. He and two other Army engineers were returning to camp after competing in a rugby tournament when their vehicle was involved in a collision. Andy sustained significant injuries including a life-changing spinal fracture and after being ‘put back together’ was flown home to RAF Warton. He pulled through intensive care and then began his long road to recovery which involved rehabilitation at Odstock Hospital in Salisbury. Today, Andy continues to fulfil his passion for winning at sport – helped by fewer distracting accessibility issues at home.

Encouraged by his dad, Andy began playing tennis at an early age and since then has also enjoyed many other sports. Following his injury, Andy tried a variety of inclusive sports; however, he gravitated back to playing with a racket.

“I’ve been lucky enough to go on to win in several tennis tournaments including the New Zealand Open wheelchair mixed doubles, World Team Cup in France, Paralysed Veterans of America Games and two Invictus Games” says Andy. “I also supported Team GB by being a ‘training hitter’ at two Paralympics. I have so many highlights from my sporting career but it’s the amazing people I spent time with who really stick in my memory.”

Andy continues to play wheelchair tennis now and again however para pickleball is his latest focus.  As a compact form of tennis, played with paddles and a plastic ball, this sport is taking the country by storm. It’s currently estimated that there is a 60% increase in the number of players taking up this inclusive sport each year.

Andy continues: “I first saw pickleball on the news a few years ago. Following a couple of games with a school friend of mine, I was hooked. There’s not too much court to cover and it’s a great, great game if you’re in a wheelchair. I went on to compete for the first time at the 2023 Nationals in Bolton and was lucky enough to win. It was a round robin event so I’m not getting too big for my boots! I’m entering the same competition in Telford later this year along with the English Open Pickleball Tournament. I’ll be training soon to get into shape for both – following our home remodel, I have a new gym so there are no excuses.”

Andy’s lives with his wife Cathy, a primary school teacher. They have recently finished an extensive conversion of their dormer bungalow to a substantial, two-storey four-bedroom house. Finished in a clean, ‘New England’ style, the property is light, airy and spacious, with widened doorways and no thresholds – perfect for accessibility. This 12-month build has resulted in a home which looks good and offers maximum practicality, just like their Stiltz Homelift. As the central feature to their building conversion, the Trio+ Homelift is tastefully situated in a hallway alcove. Andy no longer has to deal with transfers out of his wheelchair and onto a stairlift, resulting in as he says, “no longer stressing about getting between floors, it’s all seamless without any thought.”

“Our homelift is a game changer” Andy goes on to say. “Now I don’t have to transfer on and off a stairlift, especially at the top of the stairs which always felt unsafe. Plus, if I forget something upstairs or downstairs, I can get back quicker by getting in the lift. And the other thing is, how the lift looks. It’s nice and contemporary so it matches our new home. That was one of the reasons we bought it, not only did it need to be functional, it needed to look great as well. And it certainly does, it ticks all the boxes.”

“I found out about Stiltz Homelifts from my wife who watches DIY SOS. A Stiltz was featured on the TV show and I said, ‘that looks like a nice bit of kit’. So, we researched them as we were remodelling our entire house. I wanted to get away from a stairlift as it wasn’t nice to look at and was getting harder to use all the time.”

Andy and Cathy knew how important a lift was going to be if their new accessible home was to work holistically. So they decided to prioritise the position of the Trio+ – in essence planning the house around it. They contacted Stiltz as Andy adds: “We had a lovely chat with a Stiltz representative. He got the ball rolling and throughout the whole process he liaised with our architect and builder. By positioning the Trio+ in the hall alcove, we then designed the rest of the house around it, including a large upstairs landing. The process of installing the lift, from start to finish, was fantastic.”

The spacious Trio+ from Stiltz accommodates a passenger using a wheelchair or other mobility aids. Along with level access and multiple safety features, Andy’s lift has a powered automatic door so he can travel between floors in less than 30 seconds. Cathy is also finding it useful: “The lift is really easy to use and reliable. It’s just superb. Cathy uses the lift to take heavier things upstairs like my standing frame or suitcases, like when my little nephew stayed the other week. Our many young nieces and nephews all love the lift. They say ‘Uncle Andy’s lift is so cool!’ “

Owning a homelift is part of daily life, it feels normal says the McErleans. They are proud of their lift and all their friends experience the ‘wow factor’ when they see it. Even their cockerpoos Daisy and Duke are fans with tails wagging every time Andy appears: “I’m a hero every time I come down in the lift!” he says. “It’s worth going upstairs just for that! To see their little faces when I come down always makes me smile.”

As Andy and Cathy put the challenges of their building project behind them, they can look forward to a future with life a little easier at home. Andy can seamlessly access their whole house and getting to the gym for pre-tournament training couldn’t be easier. Their homelift is now the mainstay of accessible living and perfectly complements their contemporary decor. Andy concludes: “I’d recommend a Stiltz Homelift because it’s a life changer. It just makes everything easier. It’s functional, simple, cool, simply a fantastic solution. It fulfils everything we ever wanted from a homelift.”

An Occupational Therapist’s POV, from Stuart Barrow, OT:

“As an Occupational Therapist, I firmly believe that adding a homelift to a newly renovated home is not just a convenience; it’s a transformative addition that enhances independence and quality of life for individuals as in Andy’s case.  By seamlessly integrating accessibility into the hallway Andy has reduced risk, ensured long term independence around the home and enabled ease of navigation.”

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“Our homelift is a game changer” Andy goes on to say. “Now I don’t have to transfer on and off a stairlift, especially at the top of the stairs which always felt unsafe. Plus, if I forget something upstairs or downstairs, I can get back quicker by getting in the lift. ”

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