Working at The Dive Shop 4 in Marietta, Andrew Powell's arm is covered in tattoos that tell the story of an accident that changed everything.
It was April 14th, 2014. Andrew and his brother in law and best friend Frank Guinn were putting in one last training ride before the New Orleans Half Ironman two days later. Powell says, "A gentleman in a rental car, going 71-miles an hour, with no insurance and a suspended license, he, he hit us."
The collision killed Guinn, a 36 year old Atlanta firefighter, husband and father of identical triplet girls.
Powell, hit from the left side, broke his back, hip, and ankle. His spinal cord injury left him temporarily paralyzed from the waist down.
He spent months recovering at Shepherd Center. The driver of the car that struck them spent a year and two months prison. Powell says, "He didn't intend to hit us. It wasn't like, 'Today, I'm going to hit a cyclist.' You know?"
But a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows a pretty major jump in the number of serious bike accidents, especially in riders 45 and older.
Researchers found a 28% increase in bicycle accident injuries in the fifteen years from 1998 to 2013, and a 120% increase in the number of accidents involving serious injuries that required hospitalization.
In riders age 45 and older, there was a 61% jump in bike accidents and a 66% increase in hospitalizations.
Dr. Brock Bowman, Associate Medical Director of the Shepherd Center, says there are a couple of reasons for that jump. He says, "One, you have more 45-year olds that are biking. And, two, you have more arthritis in that group. So if they fall, they may be more prone (to getting injured)."
Powell, 42 and a veteran competitive athlete, says he obeyed the rules of the road, and assumed everyone else would, too. He says, "It was always like a leap of faith. I always believed, 'Well, the cars will see me. The cars will go around.'"
But drivers can be distracted. Powell sees it all the time. Driving to work, he says, "You can watch somebody texting. You can watch somebody eating. You can watch somebody putting on makeup while they're driving."
Dr. Bowman, who rode to work for 7 years, says he was the ultimate defensive driver. He says, "I rode with the thinking that everyone was going to hit me. That their goal was to hit me."
Dr. Bowman says if you're going to ride, wear a helmet, use less-traveled routes, and be aware of the cars around you. He says, "It doesn't take much. I mean a side mirror that clips a handle bar can send a rider sailing off the road."
Powell says, "If you're passing a cyclist, you always have to give the cyclist 3 feet." To raise awareness, a friend created a campaign. The slogan? "Pass them like you love them."
Andrew Powell knows the stakes. He says, "It only takes the blink of an eye, and you've completely changed somebody's life, including your own."
If you're a cyclist in Georgia, the Shepherd Center suggested these links for more information.
Information on Bicycling in Georgia
Atlanta Bicycle Coalition
Metro Atlanta Cycling Club
Georgia Bicycle Federation
Bicycle Ride Across Georgia
Athens, Ga., Bicycling
Georgia Dept. of Transportation Bicycling Programs
Southern Bicycle League's “Freewheelin’” magazine