"There is not a doubt in my mind that racing saved my life.” As statements go it’s pretty bold, but when it comes from a US Marine who’s lost one leg above the knee and who bears all over his remaining limbs the scars of both his catastrophic injuries and more than 50 operations required to rebuild his shattered body, he can be believed. He is Liam Dwyer.
Today he is sharing a Mazda MX-5 Global Cup racer in the 12-hour Race of Remembrance, at a wind-torn, rain-soaked Anglesey circuit with two other military men, all sharing the unenviable distinction of being in the wrong part of Afghanistan at the wrong time and being blown up by improvised explosive devices.
One is a British paratrooper called Andy Jones. Andy is built like one of the larger Alps. Because he was merely near the IED and because he was frankly bloody lucky, he kept his legs. The shrapnel passed right through him, so hot it conveniently cauterised the wounds on the way, missing every major blood vessel. But he still remembers looking at his thigh and noting there was now an exhaust manifold sticking out of it. “They pack ’em with anything they can find,” he says flatly.
And then there’s Paul Vice, Vicey to one and all. If you heard his story, you’d make a film out of it, except someone already did. He’d already won the Military Cross when he trod on the IED. His most immediate problem was not a leg so mangled it would later be removed, but a broken neck with a 90% severed carotid artery – a British record among survivors, he proudly assures me. He lived only because a fellow Marine thoughtfully stuck his knee into the wound. But he still had a stroke, resulting in brain damage, and lost part of his sight and hearing. His heart stopped twice on the Chinook flying hospital which ran out of blood trying to save his life. Once stabilised, more than 400 lumps of metal were pulled out of his body. He’s described as the most injured man to survive Afghanistan. If you fancy losing an hour on YouTube, I’d commend The Commando who Refused to Die.