Where to start? At the beginning I suppose. It was 6th of April 1970 when my world was
The morning of March 8, 2003 saw the Brands Hatch grid filled with some 39 riders waiting in anticipation for the start lights to go green, so little notice was taken of the new bloke revving the Yamaha R6 for his first ever race. That is, until the marshals and other racers noticed the rider on bike 56 "taking the piss" by racing around the circuit with his arm on his knee or something equally stupid.
Ready to put the cheeky chappy down for his on-circuit antics, the paddock was amazed and intrigued to find that Darrin Sharp was in fact, racing with only one arm.
Affectionately dubbed the "One-Armed Bandit", Darrin is not only racing but is currently 5th in the Bemsee 2003 Nationwide Rookie 600 Championship, something he says, that seemed impossible to do 4 years ago. Although new to racing, Darrin had ridden road bikes for 14 years when on June 5, 1998, as his mum and dad watched in horror, a Metro turned across in front of him. With no time to react, Darrin hit the side of the car, was flung into the air and hit the ground unconscious sustaining an injury to his arm that would change his life.
During the 6 hours he was unconscious, his mother, Myrtle-Ann never left his side, talking to him about his riding, encouraging him to wake up. At one point, the doctors wanted to amputate his arm but his mother said no believing that "technology can change and if later there were a way to save his arm, I would mortgage the house to do it".
When Darrin finally woke up, he was told that he had Brachial Plexus Injury. The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that control the muscles of the shoulder, arm, elbow, wrist, hand and fingers. The injury to the nerves of Damn's brachial plexus resulted it in his left arm being completely paralysed.
After undergoing several micro surgical operations to re-route his nerves and replace tendons, it became evident that Damn's arm would remain useless. His reaction to the news was to shape his entire approach to the disability. "Well, I've lost the use of my arm," he told his family. "But I can still walk, so it shouldn't be a problem". Six months later, he was back in the saddle again.
He bought an R1 and began testing a number of options for better bike control including 2 levers one above and one below, all the brakes on foot, no rear brake, a thumb operated clutch and a normal front brake which was "too scary". He eventually settled for a thumb front brake and clutch where a normal brake should be. He decided not to go for a prosthesis, but rather strapped his paralysed arm to his chest then re-took his Part 1 test to prove he could control the bike with only one arm.
With a growing confidence, Darrin decided to try a few track days and was hooked. Although balance wasn't a problem on a circuit, manoeuvring the bike from side to side was. He adapted his riding style and uses his feet to push down hard on the pegs then manipulates his lower Body to compensate for corner positioning. To Darrin "it feels no different from when I rode with two arms".
In 2002, Darrin was assessed by a medical team at Darley Moor and was awarded his Clubman's Racing Licence and has this year qualified for his National licence.
Watching him race, he's just like any other rider; his lean on corners is spectacular and his speed keeps him in the top 10 at every race although he admits the other riders are now catching up with him.
Darrin also admits that he's had 4 offs this year, once after hitting oil in the rain at Snetterton but says he's "just like anyone else. I crash, it hurts, I get up, I get ready for the next race."
Despite overcoming adversity and disability, Darrin still faces one big obstacle - finding a financial sponsorship deal That will help with his £10k racing budget. "I love racing and I want to go to Supersport 600 next year," said Darrin, "but money is a big issue. I have product sponsorship with Tactics, who supply my tyres, Performance Techniques who help with my suspension and Talking T's who provide team clothing, but the running costs, entry fees and travel are hard to come by. I won't let that stop me though. I have to race and I'll find a way."
It is that sort of determination that has seen Darrin move from being an obscure novice to one of the top Rookie 600 riders this year and he fully expects to better his success next year.
Damn's advice to other disabled riders thinking of racing? "Give it a go. You only get one go at life and I nearly lost mine, so what did I have to lose? I just got on and did it and I haven't looked back since."
Words and pictures by; Kailah Eglington (NABD Rep Hertfordshire)
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