In the early 2000s, Shane Hmiel was a promising racing driver in some of NASCAR's lower tier racing series. He was a front runner and race winner.
But a series of substance abuse violations got him banned from the sport he loved for life. He went to rehab, got clean, and got behind the wheel of Sprint Cars with an end goal of racing at the Indy 500.
In 2010, a horrific crash left Hmiel paralyzed. Doctors said he had a 10 percent chance of survival and would never walk or breathe on his own again. Not only is Hmiel breathing on his own, he now has partial use of his limbs and at the end of January, he'll be on a race track again.
What a badass.
Hmiel, the son of NASCAR engineer Steve Hmiel, has had a checkered past when it comes to his relationship with motorsports. After winning races in the Goody's Dash Series in 2001, he moved up the Busch Series, where he was a frequent frontrunner. He was also controversial, as he was a rough racer and known for having a bit of a temper, like when he flips off Dale Jarrett, (at 3:51) who he just crashed into.
Then a drug test came back positive for marijuana in 2003, and he was banned for a year. He came back, raced for a little while, and then tested positive for marijuana and cocaine. He was banned indefinitely.
He got one more chance to be reinstated, but in 2006 failed a third drug test. That was it. He was banned from NASCAR for life. No racing at all. Hell, he wasn't even allowed to come back into the garage area.
Hmiel took it upon himself to improve his life after a huge bar fight that left him bruised and battered. He got help, went to rehab, and got clean. Three sober years later, he started racing again. Obviously, NASCAR wouldn't let him near the track, so he went the sprint car route.
And he started winning races. In 2009 and 2010, he set speed records and won at a number of trucks. He also took the ban positively, claiming it was one of the best things that ever happened to him. But on October 9, 2010, he flipped into the retaining wall at a track in Terre Haute, IN. The roll cage collapsed, and Hmiel was lucky to survive.
Even though he lived, his injuries were debilitating. Head and neck injuries resulted, which lost Hmiel the use of his extremities. His family was told his chance of living was just 10 percent. He beat the odds and lived, but his prognosis was far from positive.
Doctors said he'd never walk again, breathe on his own, or move his extremities. Over the last two years, he has worked unbelievably hard to defy what doctors told him would be totally impossible. He may not be walking yet, but in just more than two years he's breathing and moving his arms and legs. That, on its own, is really incredible.
Here comes the better part.
At the end of January, he'll be doing something else that he was told he'd never do again: He'll be back in a race car. Thanks to Accessible Racing, Hmiel will be behind the wheel of a stock car at Rockingham Speedway on January 26th.
Hmiel has twice fallen further than most of us ever will, and with this outing on a race track he has climbed back to redemption twice.
In 2012, part of his NASCAR ban was lifted so he could be in the pits for a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which was an incredibly emotional experience that he said was better than winning a race. We suspect recovering from the injuries that rendered him a quadriplegic to once again drive a race car will be that much sweeter.
Photo Credit: AP Images