Re: Will the wild me please stand up!!!!
Wild Man? I'll show you Wild Man!!!!
It was the summer of 1978, and I had been racing road bicycles since '71 when I was in high school. I was then 24, and there seemed so much more. I was a year out of college but still hanging around Bloomington racing bikes like some surfing bum. I had qualified for the National Road Race in Milwaukee near the end of July, and was then finishing up the usual two weeks of jam packed bike racing known then as the Milk Race and Superweek in Wisconsin. This day we were on the Lakefront again in Milwaukee, where the National road race would be in another week.
The fields there were always huge, as big as racing in the states got then, and there were somewhere between 150 to 200 Category one USCF racers in the field that day. We were well into the race and coming down the Snake Hill, where at the bottom we'd be at top speed for the right hand corner where you put it on the biggest gear and pedalled for all you were worth as the field typically stretched out at full bore heading down past the start/finish line.
My friend Eddy Van Guyse had retired from racing and was helping with the announcing, doing a running play by play from a motorcycle in front of the field. We were excited about the news I had for him from Bloomington, about a movie that was coming to be filmed about bike racing and the Little 500, and it was to begin filming in three weeks. Eddy and I were both in the Little 500 Hall of Fame for the same fraternity, Delta Chi, and I had already recommended him to the movie people to play one of the parts of "the Italian Team Cinzano bike team" of villainous bike racers the producers were seeking.
I was also travelling with a girlfriend that day, who had a sister that lived in Milwaukee, who had been paralyzed in a toboggan accident a year or two before, and was permanently in a wheelchair, and she had come to the race with us that day.
At that point in the course, at the bottom of the hill, as Eddy was telling the crowd, we'd usually be at about 55 to 60 through the corner- the absolute fastest part of the course. I was in good form and usually didn't want to be too far back there, because the yo-yo effect was intense further back in the pack coming out of the corner and at high speed along the stretch, and because, well, of ACCIDENTS!
It was to no avail that day. I was maybe 15 to 20 back from the front, and had a great view of everything that happened- and THAT didn't do me any good. I saw the whole thing coming down. At the bottom of the hill, right in the middle of the corner to the right, the second guy in line hit his pedal and went down in front of everybody. There was really only one line through the corner at that speed so when he went down, everybody behind him started dropping too, and I quickly realized it was going to be hard to get past without falling.
When I got to the corner- a mere split second or two later- I had to go wide to miss the pileup- I came upon the traffic island that separated our two lanes from the two lanes going the other way on the other side of the street, and instinctively just jumped right over it. For a second I felt relieved, because I was past the spill, but when I looked ahead of me I saw a great big old green chevy Impala bearing down on me, and that I was probably going to hit it.
I saw that the car was also moving toward me at maybe 20 or 30, and so quickly knew that this was a very bad situation indeed. MY first thought was that maybe I could get past in front, if ONLY THAT DAMN DRIVER SLOWED UP JUST A LTTTTLLLE BITTTTT! I looked at the driver, a woman, and noticed a completely blank look upon her face- she was just passing through that day, totally oblivious to all the chaos insuing just a few feet away. NO, she was not going to brake the slightest bit, i'd probably hit her before she even knew I was coming. I sorta felt hostile towards her, and somehow the thought came on me at how absurd it was leaving a pack of highly charged racers and now maybe being killed by this totally oblivious person in front of me. It was like we were operating in different timeframes or something, and now my very life depended on just a few fractions of a second. So I knew quickly that I was going to hit her car in that life long dreaded "HEAD ON COLLISION" way. I wasn't even in a car- I was on a bicycle!
There was a moment then that I consciously felt even resigned to my own demise. My life literally passed before me as one often hears. i was for a moment in a strange kind of never-never land, of resigned bliss. Suddenly there came another thought- of my girlfriend's paralyzed sister! Death I could handle, but not the thought of beiing crippled- it jolted me back somehow, but what happened in the next moment is somehow gone from my memory.
I somehow got my leg out from the right side of my bike I believe- I hit the huge Impala at a 45 degree angle just to the right of center. My Colnago bike frame ended up with a right angle bend in the seat and down tubes. I'm a photographer and had been studying Photojournalism, and I think my mind went to a photograph in the school yearbook; a photo of a graceful black long jumper. I somehow knew to stay above the car's front end, my only chance was to jump across the car at impact.
The next thing I knew I was flying backwards over her car hood. I instinctively put my hand back to break the "fall" and my hand snapped backwards on the hood as I flew over it. Suddenly I had cleared her car andI think I had another short feeling of relief, until I impacted hard on the front end of a car parked beside her. My head smacked really hard and I bounced off of that and onto the pavement. My first thought was amazement that I was still conscious, because my head had made such a tremendous impact, and I was glad for the extra-heavily padded red Kucharik leather hairnet helmet I was wearing that day- my very frst thought was that it saved my life.
the rest of me didn't do so well though- the two outer fingers on my left hand had been snapped backwards at 90 degree angles and the bone was sticking out of one at the knuckle- I thought I had lost a finger, but they put it back in at the hospital and pulled the top back over it. I also had huge deep severe bruises on my thighs from the impact, that would only get worse over the next few days. My having qualified already for the Nationals was gone- I knew right away that I wouldn't be ready to race in a week.
So while people came rushing up to all the chaos I looked back over to where the wreck was, and there were countless numbers of the American cycling elite moaning and cursing and bloodied on the pavement. Down closest to me was Jim Ochowicz, who I had been down next to on the pavement just a couple of months before at Sommerville N.J., but that's another whole funny story. It was just sorta strange- "We've got to quit meeting like this".
I was luckily to be alive and was lucky I didn't end up paralyzed or something worse than the sorry state I was in. So I got back to Bloomington and was at least functioning by the start of the filming. I was selected for the camera double for the lead character, and less than six weeks after this debacle at 60mph on the lakefront, I was drafting a semi-truck down Highway 37, again at 60 mph on my thin puncture prone sew-up tires, the "star for a day". Eddy got that part as an Italian bike racer, in fact "The Part" he wanted- the bad guy who puts his pump into our hero's spokes.
The next season was the best of my career somehow, as the movie's release and sucess spurred me on. I was washed up though in a few short years, just about the time American cycling got more serious than ever, and a rider had to be training full time.
Last edited by Nashville Kat; 11-22-2009 at 08:12 PM.