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Mitch Flynn: Never underestimate importance of a helmet

I wouldn’t be writing this if I hadn’t been wearing a helmet.

The January Saturday of my accident began with a breakfast meeting on the topic of bike safety. I was brainstorming with my friend and fellow event chairman, Blue, on how to safely bring home the 7,500 cyclists who’ll do The Ride For Roswell in June. We gathered our thoughts over bacon and eggs and laughed as we walked out the door.

All that talk about biking made me want to get out and ride. It was 26 degrees and sunny that afternoon – positively balmy – so I planned a quick run up the Canadian lakeshore. And I had all the equipment I needed to stay warm – four layers on top, three layers down south, a balaclava and ski goggles, expedition gloves and my new, cold-conquering trump card, battery-heated insoles for my otherwise perpetually frozen feet. Someone seeing me leave the house might have thought they’d glimpsed either a lost cross-country skier or a badly disguised bank robber, but that’s the price you pay for the privilege of not living in Southern California. Off I pedaled over the Peace Bridge and into the ice blue yonder.

On the bike path, my front tire threw a plume of snow at the 1 o’clock point in its travel. And an unplanned trek down an unpaved road suddenly opened up to the skate-and-slap of a genuine pond hockey game going on in back of a barn – a moment of pure Canadiana less than 20 minutes from home. Pleasures I’ve found that biking provides – serendipity, serenity, sharpened perception – were making for a beautiful day.

I was happy and homeward bound when I saw the car at the corner of Prospect and Rhode Island – it’s a route I’ve taken literally thousands of times. And I thought that the driver had seen me. Blue remarked afterward about how he always makes eye contact with drivers at stop signs. Instead, I was about to make “I” contact with a car in the middle of the intersection. I hit the brakes full force.

The mind is kind when it comes to catastrophe. I blurted “oh” and a four-letter word and then the movie cut to black. Between braking and waking to see a pair of strangers leaning over me to see if I was OK, all I’ve got is a gap. I have no memory of the car swerving to miss me, going over the handlebars, hitting the ground, spinning around or coming to rest. When I finally figured out where I was, I repeated the same words I’d uttered in the instant before the accident, but this time much more slowly.

What followed was a call to 911, the arrival of a fire truck, a cop car and an ambulance, a trip to the emergency room, a phone call to my wife (“I had a bike accident. I hurt my shoulder and wrist, but I’m OK.”), X-rays, a CT scan, a succession of technicians and nurses, and a final pronouncement from the ER doctor, when it was revealed that I had no broken bones, that I was “very lucky.” I had to agree.

Three months out, my shoulder is healing and I’m dealing with my hand. I’ve become familiar with polysyllabic anatomical terms like acromioclavicular and scapholunate – and with the cost of health care. (The bill for my ambulance ride to ECMC was $1,325.02 – and that was without even using the siren!) But more to the point I’ve come to appreciate what’s in and on my head – less preach, more practice and a helmet whenever I ride. That’s my story. Better read than dead.