This past weekend, August 7th to be specific, the Boulder Ironman announcer was greeting each athlete as they crossed the finish line with a hearty, “You are an Ironman!” Between athletes he was entertaining the crowd of family and friends watching the runners celebrate in the final hundred meters. The sky had been dark for a while when the clock showed 14 hours and 40 minutes for the race time. The music went from Joan Jett’s I Love Rock’n’Roll to U2’s Where the Streets Have No Name and then the announcer said, Stay strong Iron-spectators. We are going to bring them all in.
I had turned the race on briefly from home as we had been down at the actual course earlier in the day. The announcer’s words, we are going to bring them all in, rang in my head. Like a little kid who catches their parents white lie and gets angry over it, I felt betrayed. The announcer was lying to me and to everyone watching. There is one athlete who doesn’t get to come home was all I could think.
As you may or may not know, a woman who was participating in Ironman Boulder was killed by a driver while on the bike course. On my home from a hard 4-hour ride I passed the scene, which was surrounded by probably ten cop cars. I figured it was a bad crash because triathletes aren’t always the best bike handlers. It was a downhill about a mile from my house. It wasn’t until I went to watch the run course later in the day that I found out she was killed. Isn’t racing supposed to mean the roads are safe for once? Protection for being part of the masses? Guess not.
Over and over people share this type of news with me fairly casually. It sometimes pisses me off, but I haven’t thought of a way I’d rather be told. Until I figure out what the appropriate way to tell me such news, there is no point getting annoyed at how the news is shared with me. Doesn’t matter how I find out, it happened and a person is gone from this world. So on Sunday I put a good face on as I listened to the news. I continued to cheer and clap for the runners. When we took the bus home I laid my hand on Kennett’s quad and spaced out. I easily could have missed the stop if I had been traveling alone.
I’ve spent the past 2 days in a fog that involves breaking into tears frequently. I had nightmares that first night. I went to swim practice the following day simply to avoid being stuck in my own head. I needed to focus on swimming 100 meters on a 1:30 interval and not another cycling death so close to home. Now I’m just exhausted with a heavy heart. Kennett is out riding and I’m sitting in my kit next to Maybellene on the couch. I am supposed to go ride but I don’t want to go alone. I wish Kennett wasn’t out riding alone. I wish I could see him at home before I have to bike to work.
Here’s what I hate about the situation this time:
- I’m sick to my stomach
- People talk in the gym about the crash like it is the 400 freestyle that Katie Ledecky won. I had a question for the front desk but others were talking to Phyllis at the front desk, so I had to stand and wait my turn. I stood listening to them comment on the crash and I had to say, “Excuse me, I have a question and I can’t stand here to listen to this right now.” If I had been a little kid and not an adult I think I would have screamed at the top of my lungs.
- People still call crashes accidents. Maybe there were too many cones in the road. Maybe the cyclist went outside of the cones. BUT, just maybe a driver should respect that there are vulnerable users of the road right next to them. Accidents happen, crashes are caused. They are caused by a society who isn’t outraged by a person dying on the side of the road. I’m not talking specifically cyclists either. I’m haunted by two young people who died earlier in the year while driving because another car hit them.
- Let’s also stop saying a car hit this woman. A driver hit her. The driver was in control of the car. I do have some empathy for the driver but I also feel the responsibility is on him, not his car.
- Here’s what really gets to me: Ironman hasn’t stood up to make a big deal about this. I believe that Ironman is afraid of being blamed or criticized for how they organized the bike course. I also believe that they are worried about losing athletes who are terrified of traffic while riding. They are a large company with money, power, and clout. I can only do so much to advocate for vulnerable users of the road. I can only invest a certain amount emotionally before my PTSD keeps me holed up under covers in my bed (I may head to bed next). I hate that I’m trying to hunt the higher-ups within the company down to ask for them to help with that effort.
I still want people to ride on the roads. Not just on the trainer or the bike path. And, although I don’t want to go ride today, I do plan to continue riding. So, if you are asking why I’m bringing up so much sadness in a blog post I’ll explain it to you. I think that changing how people drive requires a emotional draw. People need to hear how bad it hurts. Drinking and driving is unacceptable in our society thanks to Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Killing someone while driving intoxicated is deemed a violent crime. MADD’s founder carried around a photo of her daughter. MADD still uses photos of those who have died and those who have been impacted to bring a story to what would otherwise be another statistic.
So if my near-death crash wasn’t enough to make you feel sick, here’s another one and this one doesn’t have any happy ending. Here’s a reason why you need to put your phone away in the car and ask others to do the same. Here’s why you need to give cyclists three feet of the road. Here’s why you should be late to your next event instead of speeding to make the pass around a car; a car who will inevitably get to the next stoplight at the same time as you. Or better yet, consider biking to your next destination in honor of this woman who passed away while pursuing a dream of hers.