Know your limits when bicycling

  • Published
  • By Ann Tipton
  • 53rd Wing
Up until five years ago I didn't pay much attention to safety messages while stationed at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., on active duty. I considered myself safety-conscious, on and off duty, an example for others.

However, my wake-up call came Sept. 11, 2006.

I went cycling with a friend that day. I was excited to go, but I got nervous as the size of the hills became extremely large, even mountainous.

I struggled up the large hills early into the ride, but my competitive drive took over and I pressed on. On a rest break, my friend checked a map. I realized then that he was unfamiliar with the area. Trusting in him, we continued climbing up four more miles of narrow mountain road.

I descended down a one-lane road. I could see only 50 feet in front of me because of a 90-degree turn.

My friend, who was in front of me, disappeared around the turn. Suddenly, I heard him scream "Car! Car!" As I rounded the turn, I was face-to-face with the grill of an oncoming dump truck.

I veered at the last minute to miss a parked car, and the truck. I ended up off the road on the gravel. I don't remember being ejected from my bike, only flying head first over the guard rail.

A mid-air somersault landed me on my butt, sitting upright. I suffered a shattered right hand while trying to avoid a face plant. My right knee was split open from impact with the guard rail, exposing my knee cap. The doctors saved my fingers, but I lost 10 pieces of bone and have no nerves in two fingers. They repaired my knee with dual-layered stitches.

I was on convalescent leave for two-and-a half months, which impacted my unit. Even after four surgeries and two years of physical therapy, I still don't have full function or feeling in my hand.

I know I am blessed and lucky to have survived with the injuries I had. I only made it through with the help of my Wingman and the entire Air Force family.

I would have made sure I knew the route (what to expect before it came), I would have been honest about my ability to descend (or inability as it were) and I would have had an emergency contact set up to care for my daughter. Honestly, if I had done the first and checked out the route I probably would have opted out.

I didn't leave my house that day saying "I am going to take unnecessary risks." I was naïve to think I knew everything I needed to know about safety. What I learned is cycling safety, and safety in general, is not just about putting on protective gear; it is also about using caution, knowing your limits and making good decisions.