CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 BOBBY FITZMAYER
Bravo Company, 4th Battalion,
3rd Aviation Regiment “Blackhearts”
Fort Stewart, Georgia
Ever have a day where everything starts great and then goes all to hell? This was one of those days.
I was riding my Kawasaki YZF 600R to work on a February morning. The temperature was a bit cool, about 47 F, so I was wearing my Joe Rocket Ballistic winter suit. I had a 35-mile ride and was enjoying it. The night before, I’d finished my last progression flight and was now Readiness Level 1 rated. I was also getting promoted to CW2 that morning, so it was shaping up to be a good day.
I hadn’t gone five miles when I saw a car in the oncoming lane signaling with its left-turn signal. I expected the worst, so I rolled off the throttle, expecting the driver to turn in front of me. I was surprised when he stayed put, so I rolled on the throttle and accelerated to between 55 and 60 mph. Well, wouldn't you know it, right then the driver turned in front of me! At 60 mph, I was covering 88 feet per second. With only about 60 feet dividing us, I ran out of room very quickly. I just had time to say, "Oh, crap!" before T-boning the car.
When my bike struck the car, I went flying and took out a window with my head. I then flipped over the car and landed about 30 feet down the road. There was a truck behind me when this happened, and the driver saw everything. Although I initially blacked out, I must have recovered quickly. The truck driver said by the time he stopped and got to me, I was on my feet brushing myself off and asking him how badly my bike was damaged.
The bike was totaled and I probably looked just as bad. I’d broken my right humerus, broken and dislocated my right wrist, sprained my left wrist and bruised my pelvis. And that wasn’t the worst of it. I’d also damaged just about every nerve from my right shoulder to my right hand, with my radial nerve being the worst. It was 10 months before I was able to raise my right arm. Almost a year a half after the accident, I still couldn’t move my right hand. My repeated surgeries have left me with a titanium rod running the length of my humerus, a screw in my wrist and a 13-inch scar stretching down my arm from exploratory nerve surgery at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.
In May 2008, I got more bad news. My broken humerus hadn’t healed and I’d need surgery to insert a metal plate and screws. Also, my wrist would require three more surgeries. I knew my flying days were probably over.
Still, as serious as those injuries sound, they could have been much worse. Despite the force of the impact, my protective gear did its job, protecting me from road rash, scrapes and cuts. I still have my jacket, which remains completely usable. My full-face Arai helmet did its job when I took out that window. I didn’t suffer a headache, a sore jaw or even a loose tooth.
There is no substitute for the personal protective equipment specially designed for riders. I can’t understand why anyone would want to ride wearing only a half-shell helmet, T-shirt, pants and no gloves. I’d rather dress so I’m always prepared for the worst. If that means being a little uncomfortable because of the temperature, so be it. I'd rather be a little hot and sweaty because of my leather jacket than comfortable in a T-shirt with my arms completely unprotected should I crash. I don't even want to think about how bad my injuries would have been had I not been wearing my gear.
There is a saying among riders that goes, “Dress for the crash, not for the ride.” I found out first hand that there is a lot of wisdom in that saying.