Andy McKenna is a professional mountain bike guide, living and working in Scotland – he also has Multiple Sclerosis. Diagnosed in 2007, seeking fun, adventure, friendship and solace in our awe-inspiring landscapes is even more important to him now as he pursues a range of lifestyle-approaches – including use of the great outdoors – to help manage his illness.
What got you into the outdoors?
My family wasn’t really into the outdoors, but my early memories of growing up in Milngavie, are of being out on my BMX bike. Then, it was about having fun and exploring, rather than any explicit understanding that it was doing me good. Aged 15, a good pal and I went off to Loch Eil for an Outward Bound course. We didn’t really know what to expect, but it made a profound impact. I still reflect on that experience regularly, and looking back, I can see that it was a pivotal moment when the outdoors and I ‘bonded’ and I was hooked for life!
Can you describe how being out there makes you feel?
It’s a part of me and how I exist. Instead of focussing on what I can’t do, I anchor myself to still being able to get out, feeling the freedom, which is now even more precious. Your mind opens up and it gives me a sense of stability and permanence, something that everyone can learn to cherish, and especially so when dealing with a challenging disease like MS.
I guess now more than ever it helps to feel my own relative insignificance within the wild, open spaces – that sense of perspective is really grounding, really important and something that I cherish.
Through your MTB business, do you see yourself as a custodian of our fabulous outdoors?
Even though Scotland’s a small country, we’ve got such diverse landscapes, and it’s great to see people so excited – even if they come from Scotland, in many ways we’re all still tourists.
Scotland’s access rights are absolutely incredible, but we probably need to do more to develop the culture of responsibility. Individual riders and commercial operators, as well as other recreational groups, estates, land managers and so on, need to play their part to make sure that the resource that we all love and rely on is sustained for the long term. It’s such an important asset, in so many ways including for health and well-being, and I for one would welcome more opportunities to give something back and show that outdoor adventure companies like mine https://go-where.co.uk/ acknowledge their role within broader land use and management.
What’s ‘Stoked on MS’ all about?
Having been diagnosed with MS in 2007, I didn’t realise it at the time, but that was the start of a different kind of journey for me. Full of questions, doubts, and hope that I could hang on to parts of my way of life that are so important to me, I searched for advice on how to approach management of my illness in a holistic way and following my philosophy of ‘hills not pills’. I questioned the status-quo around MS treatment, and began my quest to gain control of this disease, and my life, through diet, rest, exercise and lifestyle changes. ‘Stoked on MS’ is my way of sharing the information and experience I’ve gained, and raising awareness of the sources of advice out there.
For Andy, being in the outdoors and doing the activity he loves, helps him to cope, to escape and to keep him sane.
Andy’s made a film, ‘This Way Up’, which tells his story. It’s been shortlisted by Vancouver and Kendal International Mountain Film Festivals, and is now on worldwide (charity screening) tour.
Find out more about Andy McKenna and follow his quest: www.stokedonms.org.uk