The most profound rule in active sports participation is also the most forgotten – save your tomorrows. So as my fears turned to furor Saturday afternoon with the death of a cyclist, I wish that every rider who took part in the “3 States 3 Mountains” bicycle ride could be issued a non-punishable misdemeanor for either forgetting or ignoring the fact that anything that looks dangerous most probably is, especially in the eyes of each beholder
I don’t dare criticize the concept or the reason for the bicycle ride – anything that can bring people together for wholesome and fun laughter is worth me taking a detour anytime. But let’s be honest -- Saturday’s torrential rains seemed to alter the common-sense receptors of almost 2,000 people.
Now with one man dead, another female cyclist in critical condition, and the confirmation that Erlanger Hospital’s emergency room also treated a number of others, what should have been a magnificent showcase for our city turned into the biggest sports tragedy in Chattanooga that I can remember.
The blame – and it must be addressed – should be pointed at the riders themselves, who stubbornly threw their “tomorrows” aside and ignored what were horrendous conditions for all but the most expert cyclists. I personally stopped on South Broad Street Saturday morning to watch the cyclists for a few minutes and everybody was miserable. The riders whose vision was blurred by the rain and their thin wheels going perilously through standing water on the street, the soaked police who guarded the intersections and the befuddled motorists who couldn’t decide to pass or dangerously cut in front of moving cyclists. Isolated? No, all morning!
This was an event that should have been called off – let’s make 2,000 mad with a rain-check for the next day rather than pray over the emotional scars some poor soul must bear for eternity after a careening cyclist was killed by the car they were driving up Ochs Highway. Anyone who participates in anything has a first duty to himself and those around him for safety – not a trophy. The price of stupid can never be paid in full because innocents are usually involved.
I have been a huge proponent for foot races, more cycling events, charity walks and anything that betters an active society. I wish we could have stuff every weekend and that will never change. I feel closing certain streets is a wonderful service by the city and for countless volunteers who make each a success I am forever grateful. We are blessed to live in such a place.
In my lifetime, I have been scared only twice as a spectator. Several years ago there was a triathlon, I think it was, at the riverfront where the running stage called for athletes to stupidly go out Highway 27 and back. There were huge rains that day and when I watched cars going 65 miles-an-hour pass past runners not ten feet away on slick streets with visibility diminished, I was for putting somebody in jail.
Yesterday I was scared again. Water overflowed ditches and cascaded across three mountain roads and – on Ochs Highway – automobile traffic should have been totally diverted rather than limited to just one lane with oncoming traffic in the other. Sure, hindsight is 20/20 and being a Monday morning quarterback easy, yet I firmly believe if the riders had been made totally aware of the deplorable conditions, our city and its people wouldn’t be as miserable over the “3 States 3 Mountains” event today as those who rode in it Saturday.
I understand why there was an urge to press on. Volkswagen did a fabulous job and Village VW added a lot of glitz. People came from distant cities and paid steep entry fees; they hardly wanted to leave empty-handed. But with more than nine inches of rain above normal already in the ground and Saturday’s addition falling in torrents, unforeseen water was everywhere and whoever is in charge of public safety failed the citizenry of Chattanooga miserably.
I have seen a lot of race committees and, as volunteers, they work miracles but usually they are chock full of experts – which is what you want – but who also struggle to understand there are a lot of participants who are in no way their equals in skill, experience or ability. The weakest link is the most critical in any chain.
That’s why it is imperative for every participant in any event to embrace the stern rule, “Save your tomorrows.” Play a double-header the next day or go to the clubhouse and scratch at the first sign of lightning. Postpone a race until late afternoon if heat is unbearable. Live to play another day. Again in hindsight, Sunday in Chattanooga would have probably worked fine.
Apparently we can’t seem to learn that lesson. While I abhor rules for everything we do, our city and county leaders need to give and demand our police chiefs or sheriffs to have the authority to cancel or close down any event that could be harmful to people, this despite egos or competitive streaks or stubbornness that obliterate their ability to think and reason.
We have to reach the point where we can stop asking “How stupid can you be?” because too many dummies now think it is a dare. People used to laugh when you’d tell them that many a redneck’s last words are always, “Hey, ya’ll, watch this!” but today it is true. Honestly, how can anyone be a winner in an event where a cyclist is killed and others maimed? That’s sounds harsh but rings true.
The police should have herded the cyclists into sensible groups and escorted each – with blue lights bright – to the safety of Finley Stadium. Better yet, the event should have never taken place until the weather wasn’t a factor. The Atlanta Braves called their game and other events were cancelled due to the weather. What’s the difference? The answer is the black eye we all share.
The “3 States 3 Mountain Challenge” is fantastic – we never want to lose that – and the U.S. Bicycle Trials at the end of May will be spectacular in glorifying our town and its people. The Chattanooga Bicycle Club and Chattanooga Track Club put safety foremost but what happened on Saturday must never be repeated because at least one cyclist has no more tomorrows.