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Sunday, March 09, 2008

'I wouldn't wish this on anyone'


On the same day that two cyclists were killed and another cyclist seriously injured when they were struck by a sheriff's patrol car near Cupertino, Calif., I had the opportunity to talk to a man whose life was changed forever by an accident.

As regular readers of this blog know, Gerry Frierdich of Belleville, Ill., was paralyzed from the chest down when his recumbent bicycle was struck by a pickup truck on Aug. 19, 2007. The group that's planning The Gerry Frierdich Road to Recovery Bicycle Ride met today to make plans for the June 1 ride, and Gerry was able to join us.

Not only did Gerry participate in a social way, he chose the winning design for the T-shirt that will be given to participants. Students at Signal Hill School in Belleville drew pictures, and the rest of the committee narrowed the field. Gerry made the final decision: a pencil drawing of a smiling, helmeted cyclist on a recumbent bicycle.

It's a simple drawing, drawn simply with a pencil, but it really does express Gerry's spirit.

The good news is that Gerry has made progress. He has considerably more motion in his arms and hands than he had two months ago when I last saw him, although he still has a long ways to go. Gerry spent many weeks in a hospital bed after the accident, and it takes time to rebuild muscle tone.

His long-term goal is to able to ride a hand cycle. Only time will tell whether he will be able to achieve that goal, but if anyone can do it, it's Gerry Frierdich.

Everything considered, his spirit is strong. He talked about the difficulty of climbing the Zingg Road hill north of Millstadt -- one of the most notorious hills for metro-east cyclists because of its steepness -- while riding a recumbent and hauling his golf clubs in a trailer.

"You just got to sit back in the seat and push hard," Gerry said of his secret of making it up that hill.

But one comment really struck me, especially since he said it twice during our conversation.

"I wouldn't wish this on anyone."

I'm certain that also includes the driver of the truck that struck him. The driver has been charged in St. Clair County Circuit Court with two counts of Aggravated Driving Under the Influence, a felony charge in Illinois. The case is pending.

As for the California accident, there's a wide range of comments on the San Jose Mercury-News and the San Francisco Chronicle stories as well as Fritz's Cyclelicious blog. I'm not going to jump to any conclusions here until more facts come out.

But one thing is certain: The lives of the survivors and the killed victims' families will be changed forever, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

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