An ex-Army medic who was paralysed after being hit by a car, has become Team BRIT's first female driver.
38-year-old Nerys Pearce from Ascot in Berkshire has become the latest rookie to join Team BRIT, which aims to be the first British all-disabled team to race in the Le Mans 24 hour and through its Racing Academy, supports people with physical and psychological challenges in accessing motorsport.
Nerys has started training with the team and aims to become the world’s fastest female disabled racing driver, by working towards GT4 racing in the team’s Aston Martin V8 Vantage.
Nerys joined the Army in 2004 as an advanced trauma medic. She underwent an intense 18 months of training, learning to become a solider, and having excelled with over 90% pass rates in exams, she was fast-tracked into medical training.
Her role involved moving from unit to unit, training soldiers in medical skills before they were deployed, as well as a medical attachment with special forces. She spent time in Germany, Bavaria and Austria, providing medical cover for when troops returned, on adventure training courses to normalise them from the pressures of combat.
In October 2008, she was riding her motorbike on the A312 in Twickenham doing 10mph due to red traffic lights in the distance. She was hit by a car reversing off a kerb from behind a solid sided bus stop into the road. Her left leg was completely crushed when it was trapped between the bike and car, her right leg was damaged, her right shoulder was badly dislocated and she sustained a serious head injury.
The months that followed left Nerys in blinding pain due to the damage caused to her nerves, which she describes as feeling like boiling oil being poured over her. She underwent a number of drug treatments and spinal blocks, until her body reacted badly, causing a spinal cord injury which left her paralysed from the chest down.
Nerys explains, “After the spinal block, I instantly thought ‘my legs don’t hurt’, I was ecstatic and thought the constant pain was finally over. I was thanking the consultant who had to then explain that I couldn’t feel pain because I was paralysed. It took me around six months for me to fully understand and come to terms with the fact that I’d never sit up, walk, or go to the toilet without tubes again. I always had hope that my injuries would be fixed – being an adrenaline junkie I was used to being injured and getting back to it again – this was just incomprehensible.”
Nerys then spent months struggling with the new reality she faced and experienced intense periods of depression. She suffered continued complications from drug treatments, became overweight and was bed bound for almost four years. At her lowest point, she became suicidal and it wasn’t until an intervention from BLESMA that her life changed for the better.
Nerys explains, “I felt disgusting, completely useless and as if I was a waste of space. I honestly believed I was such a burden on my family that they would be better off without me. In 2015, a support officer from BLESMA came to my home and said he was going to help me. He asked if I would consider going skiing with BLESMSA – something I had always loved, but I could barely even communicate with him, let alone believe that it could happen. BLESMA took me to Colorado and the trip changed my life. By the end of the trip I had skied solo on a sit ski down a mountain – days before, I struggled to even be out of bed without passing out.”
From then on, Nerys sought challenges and adventurous opportunities wherever she could. She took part in ‘Enduroman’ a 300-mile continuous triathlon from London to Paris, racing as part of a team of adaptive female athletes for Help 4 Heroes and breaking the world record.
In 2016 she competed in the Invictus Games in Orlando winning ten medals in power lifting, rowing, track and field – the most any competitor has ever won in one games. In 2018 she competed for Team Wales in the Commonwealth Games in Australia, coming fourth in para power lifting and in 2019 she conquered ‘Race Across America’ known as the toughest cycle race in the world, on a hand bike with a team of seven adaptive sportswomen. In September, she will attempt to swim the channel.
Earlier this year, she was approached by Team BRIT founder Dave Player, who invited her to try out for the team. After an assessment at the team’s base in Dunsfold Surrey, and a coaching session on the track, she was invited to join the team and has now started training as a rookie. Coached by Team BRIT professional coaches, Max Coates and Abbie Eaton, she is planning her road to become the fasted disabled female driver in the world, using the team’s world leading hand control technology.
Nerys explains, “I’m always looking for a challenge and when Dave got in touch, I was instantly intrigued! I had to stop skiing as I was getting injured whenever I fell, but what I loved about the sport was that conditions change so fast, so you constantly have to work out your next move, pushing you mentally and physically. This is the same in motor racing.
“I never dreamed motorsport would be possible for me, but when I went to Team BRIT HQ and tried out the simulator and hand controls, I really believed it could happen. I always over think, and over process, which has been a problem in the past, but for Team BRIT, it showed them how analytical I could be about a racetrack.
“What excites me most about what is ahead, is that we’re doing this on a completely level playing field. No one will know I’m using hand controls, they’ll just see me as competition and that’s incredibly freeing.
“I want to be as fast as I can, and I want to push the boundaries of what people expect from women and from disabled people. I’m not just a disabled woman ‘having a go’, I’m a competitive racer.”
Nerys is training on the track in the coming months before taking her ARDS test and hopes to race in the Trophy Category of the Britcar Championship later this year.