Aussie para-athlete 'wouldn't change' life as amputee

Gillian Wolski
·Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
·5-min read

South Australian man Jed Altschwager is a proud dad and husband, a world-class athlete and a part-time muso/undies model.

The 34-year-old wouldn't change a thing about his life so far, including the day his left leg was amputated below the knee almost six years ago.

Para-rowing silver medallist and amputee Jed Altschwager with his wife, Jessica and their children Aspen and Wolf
Para-rowing silver medallist and amputee Jed Altschwager with his wife, Jessica and their children Aspen and Wolf. Photo: Instagram/newbootoldjeans.

"In July of 2015, my life changed drastically in 24 hours, when I was involved in a workplace accident and subsequently lost my leg," Jed tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

"I was a young bloke working in construction like many other men in Australia and was operating an excavator when we had a small cave-in and the excavator rolled," he adds.

Jed's lower leg was crushed between the excavator and the path he was working on. He was rushed to hospital but sadly his leg was declared 'unsalvageable'.

"I had to have the leg amputated just below the knee, leaving me as a transtibial amputee," he explains.

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A composite image of Para-rowing silver medallist and amputee Jed Altschwager in 2014 (left) and 2017 (right) showing his improved health and fitness
Jed in 2014 (left) a year before losing his leg and in 2017 (right) after overhauling his health and fitness routine. Photo: Instagram/newbootoldjeans.

From strength to strength

Jed is the first to admit that, prior to his accident, his only exercise was surfing and working up a sweat on stage playing with energetic 12-piece folk-punk outfit, Dr Piffle & The Burlap Band.

Within days of his operation, however, the then-28-year-old was doing a seated arm workout using a resistance band his friend had brought him that he'd tied to the side of his hospital bed.

Something had clicked. Jed knew that life as an amputee would be physically and emotionally demanding and that building a fitter, healthier and stronger body would make things easier.

So began the long, hard journey to becoming (amongst other things) the dual World Rowing Championship silver medallist he is today.

From early on, Jed openly and honestly documented his progress (and setbacks) on Instagram. Four weeks after his amputation, he shared a shot of himself leaving a rehab session.

In the caption, he explained how he would turn to face the building after each session and hold his hands in the prayer position in a gesture of thanks.

Jed Altschwager sitting in a wheelchair with a bandaged leg after having his lower leg amputated
Jed shortly after his operation in 2015. Photo: Instagram/newbootoldjeans.

"I made a conscious decision every day to show gratitude," he wrote.

Jed later posted a photo of himself busy at the kitchen sink, his back to the camera and his stump balancing precariously on a pair of crutches.

Turns out his "strong and supportive" wife Jessica had asked him to do the dishes - just two days after he got home from hospital.

"I was sitting on the couch and she said, 'you could do the dishes yeah?' Hahah. I grumbled and got up and did the dishes. No excuses right," he wrote in the caption.

Keep on keeping on

This 'keep on moving' attitude has no doubt helped Jed get to where he is today. He became heavily involved in the high-intensity world of CrossFit early on and, in 2016, was recruited by a talent manager for Paralympics Australia who spotted him on a rowing machine.

Jed went on to earn a spot on the Para-rowing team and win silver medals at both the 2018 and 2019 World Rowing Championships in the pairs PR3 category. He has his sights set on Paralympic gold but is still fighting for a spot on the highly-competitive Tokyo 2020 mixed coxed four squad.

A selfie of Jed Altschwager at the gym
Jed has his sights set on Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. Photo: Instagram/newbootoldjeans.

Along with his sporting successes, Jed has celebrated many personal milestones as well. Just over a year after his accident, Jed and his wife welcomed their first child, a son named Wolf. In January 2019, a daughter, Aspen, arrived.

As well as being a dad to two tots under five, Jed also uses his platform to raise awareness about mental health and support other young people who are also differently-abled.

He even finds time to get his kit off to model for underwear brand Jockey as well as EveryHuman, an Aussie-based online marketplace that sells adaptive clothing tailored to the needs of people living with a disability.

Jed tells Yahoo Lifestyle that he stumbled across EveryHuman while scrolling through Instagram.

"I was like, 'Wow! This is cool!' It excited me to think there was a brand out there focusing on delivering the disabled community functional and cool clothing.

Various models wearing adaptive clothing from online marketplace EveryHuman
Aussie-based online marketplace EveryHuman sells adaptive clothing tailored to the needs of people living with a disability. Photo: Instagram/everyhumanau.

"Usually whenever anything is made for the disabled community it's quite clinical and 'hospital-like' - it may have the function but lacks style and 'coolness' but these guys are changing that."

At the moment he's a fan of the Billy hi-top sneakers which zip on and off easily but he's keen for someone to design a slim jean or pant that has an incognito zip at the knee so he can take off his prosthetic leg without having to undress completely.

While the past few years haven't all been medals and fashion shoots, Jed wouldn't change his life at all.

"It’s been a real journey to say the least. If anything is going to test you, it’s losing a limb as a young adult.

"The whole process has been a massive challenge, but one I wouldn't change for anything. It's been a great test and I've learned a lot about myself and life in general along the way."

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