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Bicyclist's tragedy transformed into triumph

Editor’s note: Hillsboro resident Betty Lou Campbell reflects on the daunting path she took in gaining the physical and emotional strength to return to riding her bike in the wake of a terrible accident she suffered Nov. 3, 2012.

by: COURTESY PHOTO - A year after her accident adjacent to the Banks-Vernonia State Trail, a bicyclist faced an emotional barrier to begin riding again.

The Banks-Vernonia State Trail is a lovely ribbon of asphalt that twists its way through trees and over streams. It is dotted with wooden bridges; a trail loved by joggers and cyclists for its tranquility.

But recently, it presented me with a daunting challenge. As I sat perched on the seat of my specialized Dulce Vita, I smiled and tried to pretend this was like any normal weekend ride with the family. But it wasn’t.

I began the same ride about a year ago. I had embarked upon the adventure with my then-good friend, Tony — who is now my husband — and his children. We were riding to the wooden trestle at Buxton.

The day was overcast and there was a chill in the air. Tony didn’t have enough bicycle helmets for all the children. When we fell one helmet short, I thought to myself, “It’s a closed trail, I’ll be safe,” and passed my helmet to Michaela, Tony’s 12-year-old daughter.

After a bit of riding, the kids were showing signs of needing a break, so I thought we should detour to a nearby Dairy Queen. We broke off from the riding trail and ventured out along Highway 26, which has a fairly wide bicycle lane. I led the way, and as I was completing a left-hand turn into the parking lot, our lives changed.

I collided with a pickup truck, and I was mercifully thrown from the bicycle onto the pavement. The truck crossed the opposite lane of traffic and dragged with it my bicycle, dredging it through the muddy grass and mangling it into a fence. I lay in the street, cradled by Tony, confused and broken. My mind simply couldn’t come to grips with the scene. Tony prayed; he wept. A passerby blocked traffic with his personal vehicle, and provided a blanket to be draped over my shivering body. The Banks Fire Department arrived, and took control of my care.

Tony was left to answer seemingly endless questions from the police and contact my children, beckoning them from their families and jobs (my youngest is 16) to meet at the hospital. Those were heartbreaking calls, for he knew they had lost their father — my husband — within the past two years. They were not prepared to lose another parent.

I was in the hospital for three weeks. My left hip had been shattered; my right hip broken. My sacrum was broken in three places; my shoulder separated. My head, which was not protected by a helmet, was gashed, the scalp a gaping wound that required a long line of staples and stitches.

The pain was excruciating. There were moments I thought I would die just from the agony of attempting to be rolled over or raise my upper body. Sitting for more than a few minutes in a wheelchair took all my strength. I cried and I questioned God.

I began my physical therapy just learning to sit up, then slowly, to take one step, then two. When I was finally permitted to go home, it was with a wheelchair and walker. My goals had been reduced from lofty to tiny. I set an objective to simply ascend the stairs in my home and sleep again in my own bed. The goal took weeks to attain.

So a year later, back at the trail, I sat upon the bicycle, and I winced. I had not realized the terror I would feel the moment the ride became a reality.

The path was strewn with red and yellow leaves. It took me some time to get my foot up on the pedal and actually pump. Once I did, however, the ride was emancipating.

Soon, we reached the trestle, a place I had longed for more than a year to take Tony. We shot photo after photo of the finally-realized goal. Then, we descended the trail to go out onto Highway 26. We crossed the railroad tracks, and stood for a bit at the intersection.

The cars zoomed by, paying no mind to us. Our anniversary date meant nothing to them. We were just a group of cyclists, not even an afterthought.

I wonder, as I enter the highway, will it all come back to me? Will I suddenly remember the impact and being violently tossed to the pavement?

As the cars passed beside me, I mounted my bicycle and rode to the area of the impact. Then we all crossed together.

The tears fell and we embraced tightly, glad to be here, one year later, to face the beast. I realize I have taken back my love of riding. I have won the battle to be who I am by simply refusing to allow life to take this trip from me.

We rode back to the start of the trail, giggling and exuberant, and then we dropped cookies off at the Banks Fire Department, to thank them for their service.

The trail is beautiful, but so are the unsung heroes — firemen, passersby, nurses, doctors and professional caregivers — who enveloped us in love.




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