Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Cowie Fighting to Get Back on His Feet, Literally
by Todd Veney
Alcohol Dragster star Shawn Cowie has been out of racing for more than a year now, since a side trip on his way to Charlotte for the 2011 4-Wide Nationals nearly cost him his life.
Cowie was sightseeing in Nashville with friend Nick Duperron when his motorcycle was struck by a car on an onramp to Interstate 40. "I don't think a lot of people realize how close to death I really was," said Cowie, who just days before the accident had won the SummitRacing.com Nationals at Las Vegas. "My back was broken. My neck was broken. It's probably easier to list the bones that weren't broken than to list the ones that were."
A 20-year-old driver hit Cowie's bike, throwing him 100 feet forward over the guardrail, and he fell another 27 feet to the ground, landing in a heap in a bunch of shrubs. "She hit me, I landed on the hood of her car, she got ejected, and the car hit the guardrail and threw me off," he said. "I'm lucky to be alive. I should have brain damage or be paralyzed right now. The night of the accident, they were going to amputate my leg. There were two hospitals nearby, and if I hadn't gone to the one I did, Vanderbilt, I would have bled out and died right there. Things easily could have gone the other way."
Instead of battling Jim Whiteley, Duane Shields, Chris Demke, and Bill Reichert for an NHRA championship, Cowie is fighting to get back on his feet. It's been a long road back for the Canadian driver, who remembers little of the accident.
"It happened at about 10:15 at night," he said. "We'd just spent the day in Nashville, and we were getting on the highway to leave downtown and head back to the motorhome. All I remember is going under an overpass and thinking that it was out of the ordinary that I was going first because Nick usually rode in front of me. It happened so fast, I never saw it coming. At the scene of the accident, I was in and out of consciousness. Nick told me everything was all right, and I'm glad he did. They sedated me for three days, but then I started asking questions – you know, 'What happened?' and 'How bad is this?' "
Almost immediately, there was an outpouring of support from the racing community for Cowie and his family. Everyone at the 4-Wide Nationals was talking about him and concerned for his well-being – and not just his many friends in the alcohol ranks. "I was pretty emotional when I heard about how many people were praying for me and concerned about me – people I've never even met," he said. "I can't thank everybody enough."
Cowie has undergone about a dozen surgeries in the past 13 months, and more are scheduled. "Some of them were pretty lengthy, 12 or 13 hours at a time," he said. "After a while, you get to know the routine, and it's not a routine you'd ever want to know. Hopefully, down the road I can walk again without too much pain. It's disappointing not to be racing with my team, but I may get to in the future. The last time I was in the car, we won, and racing again is always in the back of my mind. It's a matter of whether my body will let me. I've thought about putting somebody else in the car, but my dad and my crew only want to see me in there."
Had Cowie not been hurt, he would have been one of the favorites for the 2011 title. He's a three-time national event champion, and all three came at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – one each in 2009, 2010, and 2011. He also has three-runner-ups in national event competition, including one at the 2010 U.S. Nationals. He opened last season running 5.24, 5.25, and 5.26 at Pomona and winning at Las Vegas, and everything was falling into place for a possible championship run.
"Things were looking promising," he said. "The stout numbers our team ran in Pomona had us excited for the rest of the year and it looked like we had a shot at the championship."
Instead, Cowie is focused on the greater goal of regaining his mobility. "As of right, now I'm not able to move my right knee, but everything else is healing pretty well," he said. "I only have about 10 degrees of movement in the knee. The plan is to clean out all the excess bone and repair the soft-tissue damage so that I can get 90 or 100 degrees of movement, but I'll still have a permanent disability."
For now, Cowie, who just turned 30, is healing from a surgery eight weeks ago, preparing for the next one, and looking forward to getting married in late June to fiancé Taylor Heritage, who has been by his side throughout his ordeal. "I'm fortunate to be here and happy to be here," he said. "I'm grateful for every breath of air. I can't walk yet, and my biggest goal is just to get back to walking around like an everyday person. All I can do is work hard and see where it takes me."