Paralyzed Iraq veteran finds new course in life with racing

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Saturday, November 12, 2022
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This Army veteran was left paralyzed after being shot by a sniper in Iraq. But despite being confined to a wheelchair, he's finding new purpose in racing - and helping other disabled veterans get behind the wheel, too!

Angleton, Texas -- Dillon Cannon may be confined to a wheelchair, but that hasn't stopped him from developing a passion for racing.

In 2006, Cannon was an Army Specialist serving in Baqubah, Iraq. While on patrol, his unit discovered a potential improvised explosive device (IED) at a checkpoint. Then, his life changed forever.

"I got shot in the neck by a sniper," said Cannon. "Bullet entered the front of my throat and exited the back. Whenever it entered my body it missed all my arteries, hit my C6 and C7 vertebrae, shattered both of those vertebrae, and the bone fragments hit my spinal cord and caused it to swell, which left me paralyzed from mid-chest down."

Cannon spent months afterward recovering at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. But the transition from being able-bodied to being paralyzed was challenging, and for almost 10 years, Cannon didn't work.

"Fighting depression and trying to keep yourself active was a little difficult," said Cannon. "I wanted a purpose, I wanted a drive, so I reached out to the VA and said, hey, I want to work again."

Through the Houston VA, Cannon connected with Motor Speedway Resort Houston, a premier road course race track in Angleton, Texas. He got a job as a parts manager, but was asked if he wanted to learn to race. At first, he didn't know if it was possible - until he got behind the wheel using hand controls.

"One of the ways to describe how you feel on the race track is 90 percent of your daily life is spent in a wheelchair. So whenever you can get out of that wheelchair, you feel that independence back," said Cannon. " You don't feel like you're in a wheelchair. You feel normal."

Cannon has worked with MSR Houston to start a non-profit called Hands On Driving Academy, which helps disabled veterans learn how to drive race cars with hand controls and earn their SCCA license.

"For the vets to be able to put themselves in that position again and be disconnected from the rest of the world, they put their helmet on, now they're somebody else, it gives them a safe place," said Jim Berg, shop manager at MSR Houston.

For Cannon, helping other disabled veterans find adventure behind the wheel is even more rewarding than hitting the track himself.

"I've found that since being in a wheelchair, I like using my story to help inspire other veterans to still be independent and see that they can still have a normal lifestyle, they're just going need a little assistance," said Cannon.

For more information, check out handsondrivingacademy.org.