Mary’s Life 3 Years After Her Crash

Three years ago, my friend, co-worker and riding partner crashed on the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail.

Her skull was fractured in five places, she had double vision, vertigo and short-term memory loss, plus the normal road rash. To keep from rehashing the details of the crash, go to my July 9, 2008 post.

H-Word Warning

Some cycling forums and lists ban the mention of helmets because the topic invariably creates more heat than light. Be warned that the H-word does come up in the video and in the original story, but helmets aren’t the focus of either piece. For the record, neither Mary nor I were wearing magic foam hats the day of her crash (mine, in fact, is visible in the photo, strapped to the back of her bike).

How’s Mary doing?

Mary’s friends (both real and virtual) and former coworkers ask me from time to time, “How’s Mary doing?”

I have to confess that we’ve had less and less contact over the months, especially since she and her significant other, Tammy, moved a county away with 2-1/2-year-old Nicholas.

I used the anniversary month of the crash as an excuse to visit them in their new home in Palm City.

I’ve never been much partial to kids, but Nicholas immediately won me over. He’s bright, inquisitive and has the most beautiful eyes imaginable. After watching me take pictures, he ran to get his Viewfinder to “take pictures” of his two moms.

What’s the good news?

Mary seemed as happy and content as I’ve ever seen her.

She’s fit and tanned. She still has a few road rash “badges of honor” barely showing on her knees, but there’s no visible signs of her head injuries.

She loves her new life as a stay-at-home mom caring for Nicholas while Tammy is out working as a police officer at FAU.

Their new home is perfect for raising a family. It has plenty of room for Thomas the Train toys and all of the other stuff that a growing boy accumulates. There’s a sizable backyard and kids nearby.

What’s the less good news?

Three years after the crash, she’s still unable to work because of the problems with double vision and vertigo. Special glasses with prisms help with the vision problem, but the solution isn’t perfect. She copes with the memory loss by sticking reminder notes on the refrigerator.

She’s been told that surgery could end up making her vision worse instead of better, so she’s not going to take the risk at this point.

She hasn’t been back on a bike. She says she goes out to the garage and looks at it from time to time and she enjoys looking at the Adventure Cycling Association magazine, but she can’t bring herself to climb back on two wheels.

Part of it is the vertigo that would cause balance problems, but she told me for the first time this visit that she thinks she’s afraid to get back on the bike.

Overall, though, she’s glad to be alive

Here’s a video where she tells the story about how her whole life changed in milliseconds.

17 Replies to “Mary’s Life 3 Years After Her Crash”

  1. Thanks for the update, I’ve always wondered how Mary was getting along. No matter what you say, this is a sobering reminder about helmets.

  2. So good to see Mary here, and to meet Nicholas and Tammy! What a compelling story — thanks to you both for sharing it.

  3. Was this photo taken right after the crash?

    If so, all I can say is that there’s something innate in a photographer to want to capture an event, no matter what happens, even if its personal.

  4. Ken, thanks for sending the update message to the phred list. I am glad, Mary is doing as well as she is, and I hope for her to get over the vertigo, and the vision problems. Medicine makes such big strides at times…. on never knows.


  5. Ken, thank you for the update on beautiful, gentle Mary. She is the one who always helped me when I had computer problems at The Post. She was so patient and and so “not looking at the clock,” even though she was overworked like everyone else in that department. Now she looks and sounds calm and happy in her new life — I am so grateful you took this video. Thanks again, Ken.

  6. Three years ago, a good friend of mine suffered a similar injury while riding, but he was wearing a helmet. He was in a coma for 6 weeks and in the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago for a further three weeks re-learning many things. His helmet was minimally damaged, not so his skull. Today, he still has memory loss and the occasional siezure. He is still an avid rider, but no longer on two wheels, he now rides a recumbent trike, an ICE Q. Mary is fortunate to have recovered so well and even more fortunate to live so close to the Catrike factory! Riding a recumbent trike will allow her to enjoy riding again in safety and comfort. The Catrike Rally will be held in March, she should go and try one out and get back to doing what she enjoyed. Best of luck to her in the future.

  7. Ron,

    I knew that the medics would be coming from the south, so I grabbed my camera when I moved my bike to clear the trail for them.

    I thought the pictures might give some clue to what caused the crash when there was time to analyze them.

    There was nothing more that I could do for her at the time except hold her hand and keep her from moving once I had determined that she was breathing and not bleeding profusely. I elected not to check her pupils because there was nothing that I could do with that info once I had already told the 9-1-1 dispatcher that she had severe head trauma.

    I don’t feel guilty about the 10 seconds or so it took to knock off two frames.

    The ability to literally focus in the middle of crisis and chaos is part of being a photographer.

  8. Ken,
    Anyone who has a bad thing to say about your taking photos in a situation like this doesn’t understand what we who work(ed) for newspapers do. For instance, would they rather see no photos of the destruction in Haiti and the effects the earthquake has had on people’s lives? That’s what photographers do — intrude in horrible situations so that others may see what they do. And act on it.

    You did what any trained photographer would do — take care of the injured as best you can (you called 911 and even arranged for helicopter aid), comforted an unconscious Mary as best you could, and then you looked through your lens.

    Look at the good your photos have produced! And I, for one, now intend to buy a helmet, something I, having ridden bikes since I was a child more than 50 years ago (ahem), have never worn — and all solely because of your pictures and video.

    Thank you again, Ken.

  9. Linda,

    Ron is one of us. I took no offense in his comment. He was just stating the obvious.

    I have to admit that I had second thoughts about shooting at the time, but I decided the good outweighed the bad. Besides, I would be a hypocrite if I insinuated myself in other folks’ tragedies but pulled back when it was personal.

    I talked with Mary before I ever made the images public. She didn’t object to publishing them.

  10. Helmet or not, no matter whether she is able to ride a bike again, Mary, her family, and her friends are glad that she’s alive. And that’s the point.

    Here’s to her continuing recovery.

  11. Reading about Mary’s story a while back, it is good to see that she is happy. Their son is adorable! Something about Thomas the Train always pulls kids in.

  12. We went down hard on our tandem in Tibet in October. Claire was out for awhile, and we were faced with a Chinese emergency room and no language. They took great care of us. The charge $6. Her helmet saved her. We finished the last 2,000 miles of our Shangri0la trip with no incidents. It was the first time we’d gone down in 40,000 mile of touring around the world. We don’t want to do crash again, but we will have helmets. (Claire crashed sans helmet two weeks ago, on her 3 speed “park bike”, and was lucky this time).

    Thanks for posting this. It will save somebody.

  13. Thanks, Bob. Glad to know that everything turned out OK.

    For anyone who cares, Bob Rogers and I worked together at The Athens (OH) Messenger in the late 6os. He was the chief photographer and I was his flunky until he got interested in going to the very classes I was trying to avoid.

    That’s why he ended up with an MFA and I’m still 10 hours short of a BFA.

    I can’t speak for Bob, but I think the three years I was at The Mess were the most productive of my whole photo career.

    Take a look at his site if you want to see a REAL bike tourist couple.

  14. Ken,
    I came back to this site after receiving a couple of visits to New Bohemians from here.

    I wanted to comment on you taking Mary’s picture after the accident. I wonder if it would have been different if it had been Lila? I’m sure you were close to Mary, it comes through, but it’s harder when it’s your mate. I didn’t even think to take a photo of Claire when we crashed in China. Maybe it was because we were in traffic, and I had to carefully lift/drag her out of the middle of the road, and try to get her to speak to me. Maybe it was because we were half way around the world in a place where we could not speak the language, I don’t know. It was the most traumatic few minutes of my life, before the police found us and took us to the hospital. I failed as a photographer that time. Once I knew she was going to be okay, mild concussion and scrapes only, I took photos at the hospital. Now we find humor in the whole event; Claire’s scars are character marks and mine are lost among all the others I have from mountaineering and mountain bike racing. I know Mary can find no humor in her situation. It’s good to hear she’s in a loving supportive family. I bet she gets back on a bike someday, they are irresistible really, and I bet she and anyone she knows wears a helmet.

  15. Bob,

    When I shot the photos, I wondered if anyone, including me, would second guess my decision.

    Here’s the way I rationalized it:

    1. I had already dialed 9-1-1 with a patient assessment. Rescue was on the way.

    2. Mary was breathing, her airway was clear and there was no visible bleeding of consequence.

    3. I knew she had head trauma, but there was nothing I could do about that except keep her from moving.

    4. I knew the rescue units would be coming up the trail from the south, where 0ur bikes were, so I wanted to move them out of the way.

    5. While moving the bikes, I opened my bag to get out a rain cape to hold over her to keep the sun out of her eyes. My camera was next to the cape.

    6. I shot two photos to document the scene so we could try to figure out what happened.

    Photo one was taken at 14:39:23; Photo two was timestamped 14:39:30.

    There was no aid I could have rendered during that seven second gap that was compromised by taking the two photos.

    I didn’t try to try for different angles or worry about composition. They were record shots taken on the fly while I was moving the bikes.

    I’ve always said that a photographer has to have the ability to focus, both figuratively and literally in the midst of chaos.

    I didn’t know until April 17, 1963, that that my reaction to chaos and calamity is to document it.

    My conscience is clear enough that I can sleep at night. Well, to be honest, there are some times when I don’t sleep so well, but it’s never because I regret pushing the shutter release.

    It’s because that piece of glass that I thought was a magic shield was really a magnifying glass that burned those events down deep where they surface at 2 o’clock in the morning like a bad movie that turns on automatically.

    Thanks for giving me a chance to address something that I’m sure others have been afraid to ask about.

    You didn’t “fail” as a photographer. You had a different situation to deal with than I did.

  16. Wow. Let me tell you…. I ride in NYC without a helmet. I’ve been hemming and hawing about helmets, but signs have been pointing me toward them. I set out online today to find a “stylish helmet,” so that I won’t look like a dork, and i found your stories about Mary.

    1- Mary didn’t look stupid with her helmet in the original photos.
    2- Mary could have helped her head if she had been wearing it.

    I am going to buy my helmet today. Thank you for posting the photos of Mary laying on a safe trail. It brought it all home for me. Thank you.

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