Officer Falls Short of SWAT, But Spirit Remains High


Alexandria police officer Bill Lyle missed it by four minutes.

Lyle, who worked his way back to the force just seven months after his right leg was amputated above the knee, completed the department's rigorous obstacle course Wednesday. He also conquered the 1 1/2-mile run.

But Lyle, who was trying to keep his spot on the elite SWAT team, took nine minutes to do the obstacle course; the department requires seven. He completed the run two minutes past the deadline as well.

So Lyle has decided to be content patrolling the streets of Alexandria as a neighborhood cop and give up his spot on SWAT. He had the option of trying the tests again in 90 days.

"I just feel you have to do a self-check," Lyle, 37, said yesterday. "I didn't do it cut-and-dried, and I need to step down. You have to be razor sharp. Anything less, you dull the blade. I don't ever want to be responsible for innocent people getting hurt."

Lyle, a father of four, had scores of supporters across the country in his quest to stay on the SWAT team. After an article appeared in The Washington Post about his comeback, he was flooded with letters.

Lyle said the hardest part of Wednesday's day-long test, which included hurdling a fence and dragging a 180-pound dummy, was the running, "because you're literally running on one leg. I had to fight through the fatigue."

He may have lost his bid to stay on the SWAT team, but he gained the admiration of an entire police force.

"It's a grueling eight-hour day," Capt. Pete Crawford, who supervises the SWAT team, said of the fitness test. "We don't cut any corners on it. Lyle has accomplished more with one leg than half of this department can do with two legs."

Sgt. Jesse Harman, a SWAT supervisor, agreed.

"The physical effort is inspiring, but the example of his character and the honor that he displayed -- those of us who knew him never expected less," Harman said. "Bill has always set his own standards. Bill's was one shot and you're out. His standards were higher than the team's standards."

Lyle is just happy being on the street as an officer, doing a job he loves.

His comeback began hours after his leg was amputated. Although his doctor told him his injury was so severe that his career was over, Lyle never believed it and set out to regain his stamina by doing pull-ups on the metal bar over his hospital bed.

His fellow officers said he attacked his recovery in the same way he was doing his job Sept. 20, 2000, the night he was injured: at full throttle. Lyle, one of the fastest runners on the force, was chasing a drug suspect when he slammed into a thick chain he didn't see in the dark.

He hit the chain -- about three feet high and designed to keep cars out of the courtyard of a public housing complex -- with such force that his body spun completely around it and he landed on the pavement on his back, his right foot angling back toward him.

But within seven months of his injury, Lyle proved that he could do the job with a prosthesis. And the same faith that got him back in his cruiser is guiding him now.

"It's one small part of my life; it's not the end at all," Lyle said. "Nothing beats a failure but a try. Someone said, 'Shoot for the moon, and even if you miss you're still among the stars.' I can go to sleep at night knowing it wasn't because I didn't try."

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