Ghost bikes are stripped down, retired bicycles painted white, placed as a memorial for cyclists killed by automobiles.
In a few days, we will have posted a replacement ghost bike for Will Laramie in East Hartford, and two replacements for Jay Albert in East Windsor and one in Glastonbury.
Last summer, readers may recall we placed a ghost bike in Madison, at the intersection of Neck Road and Route for Colleen Kelly Alexander.
She protested at first, and said, I’m alive, I don’t deserve a ghost bike.
But you flatlined on the operating table twice, Colleen, I responded. You died. You were revived. A careless freight truck driver technically killed her in October 2011.
If this was 1950, Colleen would not have survived the run-in with the truck. But the miracle of modern medicine, and 78 units of blood in like 24 hours or something have her walking and talking and running triathlons again.
I won’t go into the gory of what Colleen has endured – the compound fractures, the missing skin, the open wounds for almost two years. What impresses me most about this amazing person I met through the ghost bike project is her unbridled joy for life, and her patience with the side-effects of this trauma.
Since she emerged from the coma and the months of physical therapy, Colleen has run triathlons again, and most importantly, she has become a volunteer recruiter for blood donors.
I stopped giving blood sometimes in the mid-1990s when the Red Cross would ask me if I was a pregnant woman. They have since stopped that practice, and after I met Colleen, I was so inspired, I started giving blood again, and have done so every 56 or so days since.
If you are healthy and able, I beg you to donate, too.
I hear the complaints about the Red Cross from my colleague Ben Smilowitz at the Disaster Accountability Project, and no doubt, they are legit. But currently, the Red Cross has a monopoly on the blood donation system in the United States.
And July is the worst month of the year for blood supplies. So on Tuesday, July 30, Colleen organized about 10 cyclists to join her on a 78-mile ride from Mitchell Automotive in Simsbury to Madison. In short, I rode almost 71 miles to ask you to donate blood, too.
The ride started at a blood drive, stopped at another at Gaylord Rehabilitation Hospital in Wallingford, where Colleen spent two months rehabbing, and then at a synagogue in Madison.
Colleen’s goal was to get 78 donors at each stop. She understands that she would not be alive if not for the 78 people whose blood she relied on that fateful October weekend, and she wants to pay it forward.
So I took Tuesday off from my fledgling law practice and joined Colleen on the ride. We left Simsbury via the East Coast Greenway with an interesting group of riders, at least five of whom had been hit by cars at some point in their life. Our crew was:
• Joe, a Madison police officer (who was a lawyer);
• Steve Mitchell, of the Mitchell Automotive family;
• Chris, a musician and personal trainer;
• Sean, her husband;
• Gary, a database engineer and serious cyclist;
• Larry, the head of Simsbury Free Bike;
• Robert, a computer consultant; and
We had one rider join us for part of the start of the ride, and at Gaylord, we picked up Katie, who works at Gaylord running their adaptive sports program. Chris, a Red Cross worker, drove the support vehicle.
He wins the foresight award for packing a spare road bike tire, because at about mile 30, my rear tire gave way, and we needed it. You just never know.
Colleen hoped we created some change and momentum for a positive future on the ride.
We tallied 70.8 miles on a gorgeous sunny day, not quite the 78 hoped for, but the digits were right. A few hills made me sound a barbaric yawp. A few downhills, like Summer Hill Road in Madison, felt like a happy dream – a classic Connecticut winding, shady lane.
Conversations with Steve and Larry taught me about the East Coast Greenway and creating bicycle culture in Simsbury. The three ingredients: signage, road paint and attitude.
Steve subscribes to an optimism about the Connecticut Department of Transportation that I have missed. Listening to him, though, I feel a bit better.
Joe the cop explained that even when he rides as a patrol officer with a yellow jersey instructing drivers to give him three feet of space, as the law requires, he still has close calls. The Madison police chief printed up special shirts for his bicycle officers after Colleen’s incident.
Watching Colleen and her husband ride together taught me much about love and life. Together, they have bonded with life and death. Colleen cannot throw her left leg around like her right, and needs help mounting her bicycle. Her husband stands beside her, and obliges with tenderness.
Sean is a 6-foot-4 natural athlete, a strong, fast rider who could outpace most of our group if he chose. In our little peloton, he rode directly behind Colleen, spinning simply through the miles with his wife.
When we hit a surprise monster of a steep climb passing through a golf course right outside of Wallingford in the afternoon, Colleen had to hike up. Her left thigh has not fully healed, still requiring saline solution and wound dressing. Sometimes her nerve pain is too much, especially on tough uphills.
Sean could easily powered up the incline as the other riders did, myself included. Once I hit the top, satisfied with my abilities to overcome the obstacle, I turned around and am glad I did. I was going to stand on the sidewalk and cheer Colleen on up the hill.
Instead, I saw her and Sean walking up. I cruised down and walked up with them, and learned how proving yourself isn’t always testing your strength, but your capacity for selflessness and supporting others.
Other times, the test is knowing your limits. Other days, the test is how you handle adversity. If every step agonized Colleen, you wouldn’t know it. She calmly said something like: “Leg, I love you, and am thankful for you.” I could only imagine the pain.
But she doesn’t sit on the sidelines and complain, cursing the light and asking ‘Why me?” Instead, she had gathered ten people together to promote blood donations, and in the process, celebrate life, and raise awareness about the need for blood.
So, if you’ve gotten all the way through this column, go to http://www.redcrossblood.org/ct and find a blood drive near you and donate. Thanks. Colleen and I appreciate it.