CAPT. WILLIAM C. MONTOYA JR.
189th Infantry Brigade
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington
Let me tell you a story as old as time itself. It’s the classic “head-meets-hard-surface” tale. End of story. Now let me present you another one — this time with a happy ending. It’s a story about how a simple decision saved my life.
A few years ago, after a long break, I decided to start bike riding again. Speed had become an obsession, and I loved the feel of the wind blowing through my hair. On this particular occasion, I was racing downhill at night on an empty boulevard when bad luck struck.
My two friends were in front by about 50 meters when they alerted me to a small pothole in the road. “Watch out!” they shouted, but it was too late to do anything other than hit the brakes. I slammed on the brakes, probably a little too hard, and the wheels quickly stopped turning. It wasn’t a smart move. My body’s inertia and the pothole made sure this would not end well.
The bike wobbled violently and the handlebars were ripped from my grasp. I was thrown off the bike and gravity did the rest. I felt the full impact of my body crashing down onto the hard pavement. The right side of my head and elbow hit first, swiftly followed by my lower back. It all happened so fast, but it seemed like an eternity before I heard my bike crash nearby. That sound still haunts me today.
My first coherent thought after the crash was, “Am I still alive?” I was dazed and not fully comprehending what was happening. My friends rushed to my side and subjected me to a series of questions — “Can you speak?” “Can you move your head?” “Are your teeth intact?” “Can you stand up?”
It took a minute or two before I managed to pull myself together and stand. Because it was dark, I couldn’t see much, but my whole right side was burning like hell. I also discovered I could barely lift my right arm.
Let’s pause here and rewind a bit.
I mentioned earlier that I liked to feel the wind in my hair as I rode my bike. Well, that night it was a little too windy for my taste, so I put on a cap and decided to wear a helmet. That decision, I later learned, probably saved my life. The impact of the crash destroyed my helmet. A large chunk was torn off and it almost split in half.
Now back to the story.
I walked to the hospital emergency room, which was located just 300 meters from the site of my crash landing. There, the attending medical staff initially feared I’d suffered a serious head injury due to the catastrophic damage to the helmet. To their surprise, their examination didn’t reveal any such trauma and I was sent home.
I was fortunate. I only suffered a dislocated shoulder and some nasty road rash on my hand and foot. I’m well aware, however, that the night could have ended a lot worse. What I learned from this incident will be forever etched in my mind. Always wear a bicycle helmet! You never know when it may save your life.
Did You Know?
May is National Bike Month, which is sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists and celebrated coast to coast. National Bike to Work Week will take place May 11-17, while Bike to Work Day is May 15. According to the National Safety Council, the estimated number of preventable deaths from bicycle transportation incidents increased 29 percent, from 793 in 2010 to 1,024 in 2017. From 2015 to 2016, the number of deaths increased about 1 percent, with 1,015 deaths in 2016. At the same time, the number of preventable nonfatal injuries has declined 36 percent, from 515,861 in 2010 to 329,477 in 2017.
Bicycle-related deaths peak in the summer months, starting in June, and they remain high through September. In 2017, the most deaths occurred in August (123) and the fewest in February (53). For more information about bicycling safety, visit the National Safety Council website at https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/tools-resources/seasonal-safety/summer/bicycles.