Tuesday, June 20, 1995

Frederick revisits bike wreck


One minute, Bob Frederick was pedaling hard on his bicycle, pushing his conditioned 54-year-old body on a muggy, 90-degree day.

Moments later, Frederick, Kansas' athletic director, was on his back in an ambulance, tied to a hard wooden board and heading for Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

"I kept saying, 'I hope you guys can keep me alive until you can get me to the hospital,'" Frederick said, recalling his near-fatal bike wreck on Saturday, June 18, 1994.

Frederick, who tumbled south of town while returning from a ride to Lone Star Lake, credits work of doctors at Lawrence Memorial. But those doctors likely would not have been able to save Frederick's life had he not been wearing a helmet at the time of impact into rocks off county road 1029.

"They said without the helmet, I'm a goner," said Frederick, who suffered a punctured lung, three broken ribs, broken scapula and cracked vertebra.

He has since misplaced the helmet but not memories of that day.

"I think about it all the time, when I'm not really busy. I'll wake up in the middle of the night and think about it," Frederick said.

He has thought about all aspects of the accident, starting with the beginning of his journey.

He departed from his Lawrence residence for Lone Star at 1:30 p.m., seven hours later than his usual departure time.

"I went to the Farmer's Market with (wife) Margey, then came home and did some work around the house," Frederick said. "I decided to go out in the heat of the day."

He was so hot after motoring to Lone Star, he stopped at the marina for a beverage.

"I bought a pop and had a candy bar," he said. "It was so hot I thought I should get liquid in addition to my water bottles."

Starting back, he faced a decision as he approached a turn on 1029 near Wakarusa School.

"You can go straight ahead, or turn left and go up the long hill," Frederick said. "I fully intended to go the flat way. I don't know what made me turn left."

He survived the trip up ... then started down.

"I thought I needed to get some water, that's when the trouble started," Frederick said, "because I took a drink and started going pretty fast."

He had trouble putting the water bottle back in its container.

"I looked down and just then a car came from behind me. It wasn't close, but I kinda turned my handlebars to get closer to the side of the road," Frederick said.

"There's probably an inch dropoff from the pavement to the shoulder. There's a lot of loose gravel on the shoulder. With the skinny tires of my road bike, the front wheel got out of control and started shaking. That's really the last thing I clearly remember except that I saw this clover. I thought, 'If I go down, at least I'll be in this clover.'''

Little did he know the clover covered rocks.

"The very last thing I remember is seeing all these rocks at the bottom of this ditch heading down to the bottom of the hill," Frederick said, "thinking 'Oh my gosh.'''

My gosh, indeed. He was unconscious for a time.

"I came to and knew I was in big trouble," he said. "I knew I couldn't be seen from the road so I made my way up."

A car stopped and a passenger called 911.

While Frederick was waiting for the ambulance, other well-wishers stopped to help. Frederick to this day regrets his interactions with some of those folks.

"I don't ever yell at anybody," Frederick said. "I felt badly because somebody stopped and wanted to put a blanket on me. It was in the 90s. I was riding so hard, it was so hot, I said, 'Whoa!' I was yelling, 'I don't want a blanket.'

"Then, when the ambulance got there, they were worried I had broken my back or neck. They wanted to get me on this flat board into the ambulance. They had me tied down and tried to move me on my back. It was killing my ribs.

"I said, 'I can't do that. You've got to put me on my side.' The pain was unbearable. I'm sure I yelled at those guys too. I still regret that."

In the ambulance, he had a sinking feeling.

"I had trouble breathing, that suffocating feeling," Frederick said, noting he was given oxygen.

After being treated in the emergency room and told of his broken bones, "I thought I was going to make it at that point," Frederick said.

In fact, he had visitors the next morning. The next night, it was feared he was developing adult respiratory syndrome -- "We just had a friend die of that" -- so they put Frederick in intensive care.

However, by Monday he was starting to recover quickly. "The doctors said my excellent physical condition greatly helped me get through this deal."

He was out of the hospital by Thursday and returned to work part-time four days later.

"After that it was just general discomfort sleeping," Frederick said.

He's had no bike-related problems since, though an arthritic right knee, unrelated to the accident, has ended his jogging career.

Memories of the accident inspired Frederick to become involved in bike safety. He's an advocate for helmet use and supports the Kansas and Lawrence Safe Kids coalition.

Recently, the group gave out 855 free helmets.

"Trying to figure out what happened, I realize the first point of impact was on my head," Frederick said. "I landed on my head, rolled over and hit the rocks. There's no way of knowing for sure, but if you land on your head in a situation like that, you risk a lot of serious problems.

"That's why I've been so willing to do what I can to support the bicycle helmet safety program for the Safe Kids Coalition."

Frederick, who also broke a collarbone after tumbling from his bike in 1988, says he will ride again -- with a helmet and on non-hilly terrain. He has been out four or five times this summer on a mountain bike with fat tires.

"Each time I'm coming down a hill, I'm thinking about that. I'll have to get over that," he said. "A lot of people told me, 'Don't ever ride a bike again.' I thought at the time after I recuperated I can do without biking even though I really enjoy it. Weekends in the summer, biking to Lone Star, out to Vinland, Centropolis or to Perry, those are things I really look forward to. It's a big thing to me. But I could do without it because I had running."

Now he has been told not to run, so he will bike.

"It's an escape and I really enjoy the activity," he said. "It's been a big part of my existence."

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