Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Risks

On Sunday I witnessed the worst crash I've ever seen in a bike race. On the early slopes of a steep descent, four guys (including the race leader Tom Zirbel) rode off the road and crashed into the hillside at a very high speed. I was right behind them, and barely avoided crashing myself. Several riders abandoned the race, and one of the Tecos riders, Fausto Esperaza Munoz, was very seriously injured. It appears he is paralyzed below the waist. This is the worst crash in the Tour of the Gila's 22 year history. I am rather traumatized by this news, and by the severity of this crash for everyone involved, especially since I clearly recall thinking it looked "not so bad" as I went by. One look at the three pieces of Tom Zirbel's bike would suggest otherwise. Whenever someone actually gets injured in this sport (as opposed to the relativly superficial wounds suffered in most crashes), I am reminded that we human beings are such fragile creatures. We are breakable and delicate and mortal, and we are literally taking our lives into our own hands every time we ride. It is unwise to keep this reality on the forefront of our minds when we actually race -- to focus on the danger inherent in riding (instead of the wheel in front of us) would only increase the risk -- but it's important to acknowledge that the danger is real.

As always after a period of questioning, I return to the same conclusion: risk is everywhere, and while I shall do my best to manage that risk and to be as safe as possible, my decision making can't be guided entirely by the presence (or absence) of risk. Yes, I might break my back in a bike race -- but I can also break my back in a car crash. Or in a sledding accident. Or tripping on an untied shoelace. There are bike racers who have raced professionally for twenty years without breaking a bone, and hundreds of racers who remain active and healthy into their golden years -- injury in the sport of cycling is a danger, not a sentence.

Nonetheless, my thoughts are with Fausto at the moment. I wish him the best of luck recovering.

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