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Wednesday, August 7
Updated: August 8, 8:35 AM ET
Showers the "World's Fastest Amputee"
SONOMA, Calif. -- Reggie Showers was a daredevil as a youngster, climbing boxcars at a rail yard near his Philadelphia home. He never realized the danger in the power lines hanging above.
Showers is still fearless, racing on the NHRA's Pro Stock Motorcycle series, despite losing both of his legs below the knee at age 14 after 13,000 volts of electricity surged through his body.
Calling himself the "World's Fastest Amputee,'' Showers wears his disability like a badge. The lanky 6-footer proudly shows off his special race legs, which make him 5 inches shorter -- better for maneuvering his Suzuki down a drag strip at speeds topping 190 mph.
"There's a reason why I'm here,'' Showers said. "For all intents and purposes, I should be dead.''
It was Memorial Day, 1978 when Showers was fooling around with friends at a dirt bike track in West Philadelphia. Looking for adventure, he spotted some tall boxcars at a neighboring rail yard and decided to climb on them.
Once on top, he didn't even think about the hazard looming in the electrical lines above.
"As kids we didn't know there was a danger in those wires. We saw birds sitting on top of them all day long,'' he said. "Kids don't really realize the dangers in train yards. We used to play chicken in front of the trains.''
He never touched the wires, but he got close enough for the electricity to jump to him. His feet, planted on a boxcar, grounded him.
"It knocked me right out. I lost some time,'' he said. "It was really strange to be walking one second and then the next minute I woke up and I was flat on my back.''
Showers had third-degree burns on both arms, requiring skin grafts. The lower parts of his legs had to be amputated.
"It really didn't faze me; it was kind of surreal,'' he said. "I just said, 'Come on, let's get it over with.' This was another challenge.''
From the start, Showers didn't let his disability get the best of him.
"You would think a kid would just want to give up,'' he said, "but ... I never once shed a tear about it.''
Showers graduated high school and was accepted to Temple University where he planned to study journalism. But in between, he was coaxed into a street motorcycle race. Already a dirt bike fan, he was easily convinced.
"I had no idea what I was doing whatsoever. All I knew was that I beat that guy,'' he said. "That overwhelming feeling that I got was that I had to do this again.''
In 1989, he decided to go pro on the IDBA circuit, described as the minor league of motorcycle racing. He was an instant success, earning Pro Champion and Rookie of the Year honors.
Over his IBDA career, Showers had 25 victories and 32 final-round appearances.
In 1991, Showers sensed the need for change. He quit racing to earn a license in hopes of becoming a cargo pilot. But after several years away from racing, he felt the lure of motorcycles again.
In 1995, he joined the NHRA's elite motorcycle series. He struggled for a few years until he hooked up with Prosthetic Design Inc., his sponsor.
It was the perfect alliance -- not only did PDI provide Showers with a full-time ride, they designed his legs. Today he works closely with his sponsor, testing out new products and giving his input.
"One thing that was interesting was that he's a disabled person competing with non-disabled people on a level playing field,'' said Terry Slemker, president of the Clayton, Ohio-based company.
Slemker was a race fan and had watched Showers but never realized he was an amputee.
"Normally, I can tell if someone is missing limbs. He was undetectable,'' he said. "Then I saw this television interview, and I was like, 'What?'''
The team, owned by Showers, is ranked seventh in the points standings and still looking for its first win. He has run at 191 mph in the quarter-mile, and the record is 194 mph.
"We're right there,'' he said. "We're just a win waiting to happen.''
The disability does not create much of a problem for Showers when he races. He is able to balance the motorcycle by using the prostheses and otherwise doesn't need legs as he speeds down the track.
With the racing career comes a sense of responsibility. Showers often speaks at schools along the circuit, sharing his story with kids who often aren't disabled.
"I don't tell them initially that I'm an amputee. I just kind of go in and say 'I'm Reggie Racer,''' he said. "Then I hit them from left field with, 'I'm an amputee,' and I show them my legs and pass around and they're like, 'No way!'''
He calls such work his life's purpose, more important than his need for speed. His message is simple: no limits.
Inevitably, however, the question always comes up. Is there anything Showers can't do?
His answer is always the same.
"I cannot succumb to my disability,'' he said. "I cannot let my disability run my life. I am only disabled if I think I am.''Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories
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