Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Guest Post: Sonya Lovine talks of The Ride of Silence

In April 2014, I was fortunate to be highlighted in Josie Smith’s “Life on Two Wheels” blog, in the “Women on Bikes Series”.  Much to my delight, Josie recently asked me to contribute a second article for her blog - I was honored to do so!

In the April article, I shared a bit about an organized group ride that I am passionate about - the Ride of Silence.  For this piece, I thought it was only fitting that I elaborate more on what this very special ride is about and how I became involved.

For the last two years I have assisted with and led the coordination of the local (Sacramento, CA) Ride of Silence.  The Ride of Silence is an international effort to educate the public and it memorializes those lost doing what they loved.


The organization exists to honor cyclists who have been killed or injured on public roadways, to raise awareness that cyclists are on the roads, and to ask that we all share the road.

The first ever Ride of Silence occurred in 2003 in Dallas, TX after an endurance cyclist was struck and killed by the mirror of a passing bus.  The maiden Ride drew 1,000 cyclists purely by word of mouth that began just ten days prior to the event.  The cyclists came together and rode in silence, some in tears, in honor of one fallen cyclist – one of their own.  Chris Phelan, now President of the Ride of Silence, coordinated this first ride for his dear friend – never with the intention to make it an annual event.  But when others learned of this very moving experience, Chris began receiving inquiries from many who wanted to honor fallen riders in their own local communities.

This worldwide event occurs in many countries on the same day, at the same time.  Cyclists convene to ride in a silent slow-paced ride.  Although all cyclists have a legal right to share the road with motorists, the drivers often are not aware of these rights; many drivers are not even aware of the cyclists themselves.  The ride is held each May, during National Bike Month.  Routes taken on this ride will often stop at ghost bikes that have been installed at the location of a cyclist’s death.  Ghostbikes are small memorials for bicyclists killed on the road.  A bicycle is painted all white and placed near crash sites, and often accompanied by a small plaque honoring the cyclist.  They serve as reminders of the tragedy that occurred and represent a quiet “voice” in support of cyclists' rights to travel on safe roadways.

My involvement with the Ride of Silence evolved from a need to heal.  In 2012, after only a year and a half of riding, I was struck by a car while riding home from work.  Long after I healed from the physical injuries, the emotional damage was still ever-present. 

The city in which I live, Sacramento, CA, has participated in the Ride of Silence for a total of six years.  I learned of this organized Ride through a friend who rode in each of the respective rides that were held from 2008 through 2012.  During those years, attendance was nominal – eight participants in the first year, 26 in 2009, and 11 and 14 participants in years 2011 and 2012, respectively (a ride was not held in 2010).  Prior to my accident, I wasn’t interested in participating in the ride – I knew what its mission was – but it just seemed a bit morbid to me.  Following my accident in October 2012, my friend tried to get me involved with the upcoming ride to be held in May 2013.  Now more than ever it felt far too morbid and I was unsure if this was the best thing for me to be involved in so soon after my horrible incident.  I gave in though and agreed to help “spread the word” about the ride.  Everything I did was very systematic – my only goal was to help increase the number of participants.  I emailed every cyclist I knew.  I tried to give it as much publicity as I could on Facebook, simply trying to drum up interest and participation.  The further I became involved, the more I took on.  It wasn’t until I started writing the press release for the event that what I was doing became real to me.  I was researching statistics on the number of bicycle-related deaths and injuries in our state which then led me to reading a number of newspaper articles about bicycle accidents.  

Next came the gathering of names of those who would be honored at the Ride – all of a sudden I was putting faces with names with actual lives.  I remember at one point telling my friend that I could no longer be involved with the Ride.  It all became far too much for me to come to grips with.  I was overwhelmed with the statistics and not so far removed that I realized I could have been one of “those” statistics.  Beyond that, for each and every person that I researched – their story became real to me – I was far more involved than I felt comfortable with.  I was grieving for all that I had gone through, grieving for those that died while doing the one thing that I loved, and to a certain extent, questioning how I managed to be so “lucky” on that fateful day.

Needless to say, I eventually returned to finish up what I started.  Despite my need to disconnect emotionally, I knew that no matter what, I wanted this ride to be a success.  In the end, at the 2013 Sacramento Ride of Silence, we had 72 participants – more than all four previous rides total!  My efforts were rewarded!

I clearly remembered the overwhelming feeling I had when one of my close friends and I rode up to the starting location of the Ride that evening.  We were late and we were carrying the flowers that we would be placing at the ghostbike along the route.  In my mind, I think I was anticipating 20-30 riders might show.  But when we arrived, my first thought was, where did all of these people come from?  And…they are here because of my efforts?  Instantly I realized there was work to be done so our Ride will depart on time – once again the strategic and methodical me kicked in!  The Ride took off without a hitch.  It wasn’t until I was actually on my bike riding – after all the work had been done – that now it was just me participating in the Ride just like all the others.  And then it hit me.  All of a sudden, this Ride was FOR me - or so it felt.  This Ride represented me doing the one thing I now feared the most – facing my fear of riding in traffic.  But I had 71 other cyclists there to protect me.  I cried when the flowers were placed at the ghostbike and the names were read aloud - as I thought, it could have been me, or worse, it should have been me.  As we all rode in silence, I was surrounded by two very dear friends of mine.  I knew they were only there simply for me.  They knew I needed support when I wouldn’t even admit that to myself.  The approximately hour-long silent ride allowed me time to fully contemplate and reflect on all that I had gone through - and all that I was still going through - things I hadn’t fully allowed myself to think about prior to that point.  When the Ride was over, a number of wonderful people came up to me simply to say “thank you” for organizing the Ride.  

There were two particular “strangers” who approached me and made lasting impressions on me.  One who truly seemed moved by the experience and very graciously thanked me for doing what I did.  At that very moment of meeting her, I remember feeling that I would always have an angel riding with me.  The other meaningful person inquired about my accident.  I remember asking “how did you know I was in an accident?”  And he pointed to the red ribbon I was wearing on my arm (all cyclists who have been injured wear a red ribbon during the Ride).  I then felt silly for having asked “how did you know”!  I found myself telling this perfect stranger every detail about the accident.  He then told me about his absolutely horrific accident of his own.  It was then I realized that all of us wearing red ribbons that night bonded in some shape or form.  We were comrades brought together by our own very unfortunate incidents - but that night, we all rode as one.  When it was all said and done, I knew that my “unintentional” involvement with the Ride was purely therapeutic for me.  It was what I needed to start my healing process. 

One year later, May 2014, I embraced taking the full lead on coordinating this year’s Ride of Silence in Sacramento.  The goal this year was to get the word out, get the community involved, raise funds and gather donations, and simply make it a memorable experience for those families of loved ones lost who were joining our ride.  No longer was I only reflecting upon my own personal experiences and pain – now it was more about what I could do to advocate for the safety of others while cycling.  This year I was much more involved – it was solely my responsibility to get the numbers up and make sure the ride was a success.  I finally felt like I was making a difference for others, not just for myself.  This year I became much more engaged with the families of the deceased cyclists.  The horror stories I heard – each one of them filled with grief, pain, and sorrow – had me in tears. Family members from various parts of California came to Sacramento to join our Ride.  The California Bicycle Coalition supported our efforts this year.  There was such a great outpouring of support from the local community, bicycle shops, and other local businesses.  

This year, as I reached the starting point of our ride, I was once again in complete amazement.  The crowd was bigger than I could have ever wished for – we had 135 participants!  Almost double of what we had last year!   For the second time in two years, our ride took us from California’s State Capitol building to the front of California State University, Sacramento where a ghostbike was installed.  Upon the reading of the names of cyclists who have left us, there were not many dry eyes in the crowd.  With our bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace”, I desperately tried to keep busy during what is the saddest part of the whole event.  I looked around and just observed the great variety of cyclists who participated this year.  We had sleek and sexy road bikes out there, cruisers, fixed gears, recumbents, hybrids, mountain bikes, trikes – cycling clubs, families - all types and skill levels of riders joined together for one powerful cause.  As I continued to look around I noticed some very great men and women of our cycling community – they stood out and represented everything that this Ride meant – we are all one, and we have to look out for each other.  Regardless of any competitive spirit elsewhere, we were in this together on this one special evening. 

My greatest volunteer effort is my involvement with the Ride of Silence.  Being a small part of a greater movement - in helping to spread the word to protect all cyclists and to honor those that have been killed - has given me a sense of peace and strength.  My personal traumatic experience prompted me to do what I can to bring awareness to our community - we all must share the road because these are human beings’ lives which are being put at risk daily.

The show of support from the Sacramento cycling community, the cyclists who shared their stories with me, the grieving family members I was blessed to meet, and the friends that supported me on this ride –came together to make this a safe and successful event.  At first a bit too much for me to handle as I read the statistics of bicyclists injured and killed – it brought back far too fresh memories.  But in the end, this was by far the best therapy for me.  Overwhelming in so many ways – the solidarity displayed helped ease my fears.  In the end, I was reminded that I ride for freedom – and I will always have angels riding next to me.


2 comments:

  1. The Ride of Silence is one of the best annual events organized for cyclists that I've ever heard. It's a great way to honor those who have experienced road accidents and injuries. I think you are brave for participating in that event after having been involved in an accident back in 2012. Thank you for sharing that with us, Josie! All the best! :)

    Roman Barnes @ Johnson & Johnson Law Firm

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Roman ~ I'm a bit late in seeing your comment here...but I just wanted to say thank you for your thoughtful words.

      Delete