Andre Lampkin lost his hands and legs to meningitis
Andre Lampkin Jr. is an athlete. And athletes are going to find a way to compete.
The former Hurst L.D. Bell standout is doing just that, winning the biggest competition of his life.
Lampkin, 30, a 2007 Bell graduate, lost both hands and both legs by amputation following complications with meningitis in 2009. Gone was his dream to play college football, along with his aspirations to perhaps make it into the NFL.
"They amputated my limbs, but they didn't cut off my spirit," Lampkin said. "I still had the competitive spirit that had driven me for so long."
Lampkin has refocused that ambition. He now dreams of making the 2020 U.S. Paralympics Team both in wheelchair rugby and track, something that would be a rarity if not a first.
"I know I have the potential, and my whole identity is sports," he said. "After learning there are still sports out there for me, it's become my new journey."
Lampkin plays for Team Rise wheelchair rugby club in Irving. Though he doesn't need a wheelchair to get around, as evidenced by the fact he runs a 13.75 time in the 100-meter dash, his leg amputations qualify him to be on the team.
After only one season he was invited to the prestigious USA Rugby Camp in Birmingham, Alabama in the spring. It's one of the steps to hopefully getting on the 2020 Paralympics Team.
"It was exciting," he said of the experience. "I liked what they said, and they said they liked what they saw. It taught me a lot."
He learned about Team Rise and wheelchair rugby by connecting with James Gumbert, coach of the USA Team, on Facebook. Team Rise coach Cayla Newkirk said despite being a newcomer to the sport, he has what it takes to make it to the Paralympics in Tokyo in 2020.
"He's the most dedicated player at practice. He lets nothing hold him back," she said. "He's a natural athlete, and he has that competitive drive that makes special things happen. It's such a joy to coach him.
"In a chair, standing up, arms, no arms, legs, prosthetic or real, a sport is a sport and an athlete is an athlete. He just turned a new sport into his passion. If you're just one year into wheelchair rugby and you're already getting offers for tryouts at that level, that's impressive and you've got something."
Lampkin said he has fallen in love with wheelchair rugby. After all, learning a new sport is nothing new for a guy who played running back and receiver in football, was a point guard in basketball (getting looks from TCU despite playing just one season at Bell), and was a sprinter on the track team.
"Wheelchair rugby has shown me what all I can do," he said. "That's my new football, and I love football."
He also has a passion for track, and has been seriously chasing a Paralympics berth in that sport as well. He qualified for the World Games in 2017, running a time of 13.75 seconds in the 100-meter dash, but they were in California and he didn't have a sponsor and couldn't afford to pay his own way.
"It was hard not going, but at least I know I could have competed if I could have gotten there," he said.
Unlike rugby, Lampkin does not belong to a team in track. He trains a lot on his own, along with working with the Adaptive Training Foundation. He also returns to Bell High School to work out with the track team sometimes.
"Last cross country season I even had him come to a meet and speak to the kids before a race," Bell cross country/track coach Gerald Smith said. "I use his experience with our kids, telling them you never know when things are going to change in life and you're left with the greatest of challenges. Our kids will get tired, and then they'll look up at Andre and see him running his hardest."
Smith said Lampkin is more than just an athletic inspiration, however.
"For Andre, sports was his ticket to a better life, and when that happened, you thought 'What's going to become of Andre now?'" Smith said. "To see where he is mentally is an amazing story. He's still an athlete, and now he's got a chance to do things he might not have done as an able-bodied person."
Though a standout in multiple sports, Lampkin decided to play college football. He played one season at Cisco Junior College before becoming ill. At first he thought he was just sick and, as many people will do, put off going to a doctor. When he finally did, he received the shocking news that he had meningitis as a result of not having been vaccinated, he said.
"It totally caught me by surprise. After I got sick I felt drained, had some stomach pain, and I just tried to sleep it off," he said. "By then it was too late."
Then came the news that he had to undergo amputations.
"It had to happen, or I would have died," he said. "When I first got amputated all I wanted to do was go home, but there I was in a bed and I was all cut up. Everybody was doing things for me, and it was frustrating. That in itself is its own drive."
Within a couple years, however, he was living on his own, though he admits that was scary. Now, when he's not training he mows lawns for extra money. He also draws social security disability and gets a stipend for playing rugby, he said.
He said when he was in the hospital his spiritual side was awakened, inspiring him to still search for greatness.
"It wasn't going to be easy, I knew, but I had just gone through a life-or-death situation, and I knew if I could survive that there had to be more for me," he said.
He also wanted to push on as an inspiration for his three younger sisters, along with one older sister. As for drawing inspiration from someone himself, he turned to his "auntie."
"She's very spiritual, and I call her when I'm under attack emotionally," he said. "She encourages me. We've been close since I was little, even closer since I've gotten older."
Lampkin said even though it took him a few years to find his way back into sports, during the several years in between the amputations and his return he never gave up.
"I was trying to figure out life, gaining independence again," he said. "The world response to you is the hardest part. You were treated a certain way for all those years because you could do things most people couldn't. It's a challenge to re-adjust, but it's so great to be able to do that."
Lampkin, though humble, understands and appreciates being an inspiration himself. He plans to return to school and study kinesiology. He also said he has considered being a coach someday.
"Anybody who's gone through a physical change should understand you can still be yourself in that challenged body," he said. "It's all in how you look at life. A lot of it is mental.
"As for me, in 10 years I want to be in a peaceful place, be established, have accomplished some goals, and do what I was sent here to do."