Heads Up, Wear Your Helmet!

If you are a bike rider who frequents the Delmar or Corning Preserve (technically the Hudson-Mohawk) bike paths, you might have encountered a small woman on a fast-looking blue bike with bright orange detail, who grumpily yells at you while she speeds past: “Wear a helmet!”

That would be me.

And sorry, I’m not sorry for delivering this bike-by lecture, as it were. You may find it incredibly rude, like who the heck do I think I am, yelling at strangers? I know my long-suffering husband, who is often riding out with me, does. I’m sure he wants to melt into the ground with embarrassment when I get up on my helmet soapbox.

You know what? I don’t care. It may sound smug, but I know I’m right about this one.

It drives me particularly crazy to see parents riding without helmets, shepherding a flock of helmet-wearing little kids.

Kudos to you for protecting developing brains, parents. But what sort of example are you setting? One in which kids assume that as soon as they get old enough, they can ditch the hot, scratchy, uncomfortable head gear, that’s what.

Next up in my litany of complaints is the flocks of teenagers on bikes – all helmetless – some of them not even wearing sneakers, but sporting plastic soccer slides instead.

They’re shifting all around the path, sometimes “steering” with one hand while checking their phones with the other. They’re wearing ear buds, or calling over their shoulders to one another.

Basically, they are an accident waiting to happen, certain to collide with a member of their own group or, worse yet, some unsuspecting bike path user who just happens to be at the wrong place at the right time.

And then there are my fellow so-called “serious” riders, the ones on bikes that can cost more than a small used car – and go just about as fast, too, depending on how fit the owner is.

These people are perhaps the worst offenders, since they have themselves all kitted out in bright spandex shorts and bike shirts, bike shoes securely fastened in their clipless pedals, and – why, Lord, WHY? – no helmet on their heads.

I know wearing a helmet is not required by law for adult cyclists, (it is for children under 14, and also in select – SMART and FORWRD-THINKING counties for everyone), but in my opinion, it should be. Just ask my friend Danny Arnold. I’m sure he will be willing to bend your ear for quite a while on the subject.

Danny is the guy you see in the photo that accompanies this rant.

If you are even a casual member of the Capital Region triathlon and/or road race community, you probably encountered him at some point. He was the relentlessly upbeat guy making friends at every race, acting like he was having the time of his life while voluntarily engaging in serious pain. He’s basically a human Golden Retriever, really one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering.

A few years back, Danny embarked on a mission to get into the Kona Ironman, which is the crème-de-la-crème of triathlons, the race that started it all.

He knew he wasn’t fast enough to qualify, so he opted for the legacy program, which requires you to complete 12 Ironman races – that’s 2.4 miles of swimming, followed by 112 miles of biking, followed by a marathon (26.2 miles of running), all in the same day – to get into a lottery that maybe, possibly, fingers-crossed, will get you a Kona slot.

Danny also moved across the country to California not long ago, ending up in the Southern part of the state, which is basically a triathlete mecca. He trains a lot. Probably every day. And he loves it.

On Oct. 13, 2018, 2018, Danny was out on a training ride with the San Diego Tri Club, preparing for his 13th Ironman – Ironman Arizona – when he collided with another rider – not a car, mind you, which is a whole other rant I will likely engage in at some point.

He ended up unconscious on the side of the road, and was lucky enough to have someone call an ambulance to get him to the Scripps Hospital Trauma Center in LaJolla, CA.

It turned out that Danny had a cracked skull and hematoma of the brain. He spent a week in the ICU in an induced coma, and then two more weeks going through intensive rehab. That was followed by three months of outpatient work with neurologists, cognitive therapists and other specialists.

At the end of those three months, Danny was able to start reconnecting with his life and his beloved training. He ran his first half marathon in Carlsbad, CA, saying he felt “so blessed, grateful and thankful all at the same time.”

Thankfully, Danny was wearing a helmet at the time of his accident. Because you know what he would be if he hadn’t? No longer with us. No question about it.

“To this day, I still don’t remember anything about the accident, but what I am sure of is my helmet saved my life,” Danny told me.

Danny is now a serious helmet believer, and he has upgraded to one that has Multi-Directional Impact Protect System (MIPS) technology, which is designed to reduce rotational forces that can result from certain impacts.

In addition, Danny says he’s a more careful cyclist now – “hyper” aware of his surroundings, and “very cautious” riding in a pace line. He also won’t ride with someone he doesn’t know.

I asked Danny if it makes him angry to see people riding without helmets when he has such an intense personal experience of their utility, and he responded:

“I am always amazed, especially if I see parents with kids that have helmets on while riding, and see the parents go without. It just makes me want to scream out to them to be safe and set an example to your children.”

Danny, as it turns out, is too polite to publicly chastise people for failing to protect themselves, even though he is certainly more of an expert than I am on the subject.

But rest assured that he will be out there, setting a good example with his helmet firmly latched beneath his chin, when he hits the course at Ironman Canada on July 28, 2019 – a mere nine months after his accident.

I’ll be cheering Danny here in the Capital Region, as will many of his old training and racing buddies.

Do yourself a favor and think of Danny next time you pump up your tires and prepare to take your bike out for a spin. Make sure to wear your helmet.

And not to worry, if you don’t wear one, you’ll be hearing about it from me.

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