The next time you feel you are facing a seemingly impossible situation, ask yourself, ‘What would Sergeant Liam Dwyer do?’
‘Alive Day’ is the term used by US military servicemen and women to describe the day they faced certain death and somehow survived. For Sergeant Liam Dwyer, his Alive Day came on May 22nd 2011.
Then aged 29, Dwyer, a veteran of tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan found himself back on active duty in Afghanistan and leading a patrol when he stepped on an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). Dwyer stepped on the booby trap’s trigger mechanism, exploding the bomb beneath him. The resulting blast severed the majority of his left leg, severely damaged his right leg, right arm, lower abdomen and left arm.
To prevent infection, Dwyer endured surgery every other day for 5 weeks. His doctors told him he would never walk again. Dwyer had other ideas. He threw himself into rehab after enduring round after round of surgery which took him past 50 in total. Within 6 months he had a prosthetic leg fitted and was back walking.
Dwyer’s passion between his tours of duty had been motor racing. His most prized possession being a souped-up Nissan 350Z, which he raced at amateur rallies and motorcross events. In November 2011, Dwyer’s friend bought him a ticket to attend an amateur vintage car race in Virginia and his life changed.
At the event, Dwyer struck up a conversation with one of the drivers, Dave Thomas. Thomas invited Dwyer back to the pits to check out the cars and his team set-up. Dwyer noticed that Thomas’s team had a multitude of data produced by GPS sensors that told the drivers what racing line to take and when to break. Scanning the data, Dwyer began pointing out where Thomas could save time by adjusting his line and breaking.
So impressed with Dwyer’s know how, Thomas asked him if he would be interested in driving one of the cars at a future rally. Never a man to shy away from a challenge, Dwyer took up Thomas on his offer. The racing team improvised with Dwyer’s prosthetic leg, using Velcro to attach his foot to the clutch and trust that he would instinctively know when to apply pressure and release based on the feel of the car. Dwyer tested brilliantly and by July 2012 he was winning races, taking home the prize at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix.
His ability got him noticed and Dwyer was offered the opportunity to make the step up to the National Auto Sports Association Spec Z class. However, the increased speed of the cars caused technical problems as Dwyer’s prosthetic leg was being shaken off the clutch. The US military’s prosthetics lab came up with a solution. They used a 3-D printer to produce a bracket precisely shaped like Dwyer’s prosthetic foot that could be attached to the clutch and Dwyer went back racing.
Flash forward to January 2014 and Dwyer got the call from Mazda Racing’s Freedom Autosport Team asking if he would be interested in an audition for a spot on their professional team competing on the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge circuit. The opportunity introduced a new factor as the rules of competition meant that teams had to change driver at least once during the two-hour race. Time lost in transition can make the difference.
Dwyer was initially taking in excess of 40 seconds to unbuckle himself and pull himself out the driver’s side window as is expected – about 30 seconds too long. Lesser men would have given up at this point, but Dwyer simply redoubled his efforts until he was vaulting out of the car in an average of 11 seconds – comparable to standard able-bodied drivers.
The Hollywood script seemed to be complete when Dwyer co-drove his Mazda MX-5 to victory at the Northeast Grand Prix on May 24th, two days after the third anniversary of his Alive Day.
Sergeant Liam Dwyer is still a serving member of the US Military. He undertakes 4-5 hours of gruelling physical rehab every day in a bid to strengthen his body following the injuries he sustained. Twice awarded the Purple Heart, Dwyer is rostered to race for Mazda Racing in the upcoming 2014 / 15 season.
When Dwyer first told the US Military that he was motor racing, they were wary, expressing concern that he might get hurt. Dwyer’s response, “You’re the ones who sent me to Afghanistan, a place where I almost got killed, and you’re worried about me getting into a car accident?”
Ladies and gentlemen…Sergeant Liam Dwyer.
David Sheehan, Pundit Arena.