Tom Long and Liam Dwyer drove their No. 25 Mazda to victory at Lime Rock Park in Salisbury. Conn., this weekend. Dwyer lost part of his left leg in combat while serving as a Marine in Afghanistan in 2011.
USMC Sgt. Liam Dwyer's story is one of commitment, courage, second-chances, recovery and triumph.
Saturday's victory in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge event at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut was just the latest chapter in his amazing-but-true tale.
A native of Waterbury and son of Western Connecticut, Dwyer lost most of his left leg in when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan three years and two days before Saturday's race. The blast injured four other Marines. Dwyer's recovery has consisted of thousands of hours of relentless and unforgiving physical, mental and emotional rehabilitation.
That makes May 22, 2011, his "Alive Day," even though he did not recover full consciousness until 10 days later while recovering in Maryland.
May 24, 2014 could be called his "Revive Day." An amputee Marine, nearly killed in combat, winning in his second time out as an IMSA driver on his "home" track.
During his rehabilitation and recovery, Dwyer's desire to race cars, one that was born at Lime Rock watching the sports cars race on Memorial Day weekend as a boy, caught the interest of Freedom Autosport.
His training on the IMSA level began in earnest earlier this year. Dwyer, 32, got his first IMSA ride three weeks ago in California but quickly crashed his Mazda when his foot slipped off the brake. The team at Freedom worked 12-hour days from May 10-16 to rebuild the No. 27 Mazda that won Saturday. The rest of the down time was spent driving the car from California to North Carolina and then from North Carolina to Connecticut.
A shattered car pieced back together, just like its driver.
"I took me a little bit longer, but that's pretty much my story," Dwyer told The OBF Column on Sunday. "It's all been surreal. "It's quite a whirlwind. We never thought it would happen. It's quite amazing. It's one of those moments in life I'll never forget. Winning the race itself was the biggest surprise in all of this. We knew we had a good car and would contend, but to win, it's a real accomplishment because the caliber of competition here is to tough. The winners receive lots of praise and accolades because the other drivers know what everyone else goes through."
Dwyer uses a bracket and Velcro strip device that allows him to use the clutch from the remainder of his left leg. He drove the first 22 laps in Saturday's victory and gave up the wheel to teammate Tom Long. Driving from 25th place in the 32-car field, Long guided their car to victory.
Dwyer repeatedly credited both Long and the rest of the team at Freedom for the victory on Saturday. He shared the checkered flag in front of family and friends at what he calls his "home track."
"I've been coming to this track since I was little. I had my first race here. I want to the Skip Barber Racing School here. I have a lot of personal personal history at the track. And Lime Rock lime rock has a lot of history."
His next IMSA event is scheduled for Aug. 23 at Virginia International Raceway in Alton, Va.
For Dwyer, racing is truly a team sport. "Everyone. From the team that built the car, to the crew, to Tom, who did a phenomenal job driving, to everyone at Freedom, they all played a part in this," he said. "It's just like the military. One reason why the military succeeds is that everything we do is in teams. Fire teams. Platoons. We rely on our brothers and sisters. Saturday, it was a case of everyone relying on their brothers."
Dwyer, who remains on active duty despite his injuries, was inspired to join the Marines following the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen. During 2007 in Iraq, he took shrapnel on the left side of his body as a Humvee turret gunner after a road-side bomb exploded. He left the military only to return when asked to join a special team headed to Afghanistan. The fateful blast in 2011, that sheared off his left leg below the knee and damaged his right leg and right arm, happened while he was searching a compound in Sangin Province.
Dwyer's victory came on Memorial Day Weekend. He was eager to remind us of the day's real purpose.
"People see Memorial Day as a day to drink, party and picnic," he said. "It holds special meaning to me because I have close personal friends who died over there."
He offered to share the story of one of those friends in an effort to help personalize the true cost paid by some for this "holiday."
USMC Sgt. William J. Cahir was killed on Aug. 13, 2009, while serving in Afghanistan. Cahir, 40, joined the Marines after working as a newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania. He also ran for congress in Pennsylvania and was a Congressional staffer for the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy [D-M.A.]. Cahir joined the Marines while in his mid-30's in 2003.
"We were good friends. He was in the same same unit that I was attached with when I was injured. Bravo Company. First Battalion. Fifth Marine Regiment. He was killed in a firefight. That was a very, very hard day to find about when he was killed. He was a Marine's Marine. His wife was pregnant with twin-girls when he died. He gave up everything to join the military. But he believed in it. Here's a guy who gave up everything to serve his country."
As a sports fan, Dwyer fell on the Yankees side of the great Boston/New York Sports Divide that splits Connecticut. He's neither comfortable with the Yankees' spot atop the A.L. East, nor does he share any glee in the Red Sox' current [as of Monday morning] 10-game slide.
"I don't sit here and laugh at my sport counterpart's misfortune. I don't want to win a race due to somebody's misfortune," he said. "The Red Sox are a good team. Who knows, maybe later this season, they'll be three or four games out and they'll be able to win 9 or 10 in a row. It's a 162-game season. We've seen teams leading their division in May and June and disappear. The Yankees are old. They need to get younger and some fresh arms."
Having grown up in Connecticut, Dwyer is well aware of the Calvinistic fatalism inbred within those over 35 who follow the Red Sox.
"We want our teams to go 162-0. God forbid they go 161-1."
Sometimes, however, even 161 victories cannot match the impact of a single checkered flag.
The OBF Blog is written by award-winning journalist, Bay State native and Boston.Com columnist Bill Speros. Got a news tip, want to let him know directly what you think, have a complaint or compliment about his "aggressively relevant" content or hate people who speak about themselves in the third person, hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or hit him on at his
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