Benefits of bike trips outweigh the dangers

As a member of Habitat Bicycle Challenge’s sister organization, Bike and Build, it was with heavy heart that I learned of Yale’s loss two summers ago and subsequent challenges.

My thoughts and prayers remain with Dan Lewis and his family. I have dedicated my professional career as a physical therapist to rehabilitating people like Dan. I know that according to the Braintree Classification System of patients after brain injury, he has a long road ahead of him. I am excited to learn he is improving in eye activity as that is significant and a sign of improving prognosis.

I can also understand the burdens and sorrow that this has caused his loved ones, and that the recent injuries are causing resistance from the higher-ups at Yale. Dean Salovey, I want you to know, however, that it is a greater risk to stop HBC than it is to continue it. As a physical therapist at the University of Washington’s Harborview Medical Center, I cover the emergency room regularly. I have seen firsthand that the statistics as reported by the CDC and NIH are very accurate: There are almost eight times more fatalities and injuries in individuals aged 15-24 years old in pedestrians than in cyclists each year. Bike and Build this year suffered the loss of our own program director, who was killed while crossing a street at night in his hometown, New York City. Individuals aged 18-24 are at significant risk, and males are four times more at risk than females.

In development of their Healthy People 2010 objectives, the CDC has tried to grasp why this risk is so significant. It seems that people at that age have high self-efficacy: We believe ourselves to be invincible. Dean Salovey, I write because it is important that you know that HBC does not breed dangerous risk. Instead, it teaches young people to be responsible. Participants are required to raise funds that pay for Habitat homes. They contribute build hours. They need to balance their academic loads and their extracurriculars, and then get their bodies into shape so they can ride 4,000-plus miles over mountain ranges, across praries with heavy headwinds, from one coast to the other.

Dean Salovey, I am sorry that you must never have been given the chance to participate in such a trip. If you had had the opportunity, you would know that these programs instill in their participants the knowledge that they can accomplish seemingly daunting feats like paying entirely for a Habitat home, advocating the need for more affordable housing and riding their bicycle across the United States of America. For myself, no other life experience, no academic class, no other summer program has been so empowering as Bike and Build has been.

Moreover, the day that my own dean of students, Kenneth Elmore of Boston University, told me he supported my trip and believed so much in my cause that he and the university president would personally donate $1,500 to my cause, I felt that in a school of more than 32,000 individuals, I was not a number. Instead, I was known and valued. I learned that day that there is nothing I cannot do. I now have moved to my professional life with the goal of providing the best possible care to people like Dan so I can decrease their suffering.

After Dean Elmore’s actions, I have a secondary mission of adequately reflecting the opportunities Boston University and Bike and Build made possible for me. I have now met with approximately 120 other Bike and Builders. I have learned that while our routes may all be different, we all share these above traits. As a physical therapist, I can assure you that your student Dan Lewis was at risk given his age and his gender, and he was more at risk walking across the street than riding his bicycle. His participation with HBC is an asset for him as an injured patient, because I know he has the skills and the self-efficacy his healing will require. I am sure his physical therapist would perceive it as a sign of good prognosis. We — today’s youth and the future’s society — are at more grave a risk if we deter such trips that instill such important skills.

My trip-mates have gone on from our experience to participate with Peace Corps, AmeriCorps and Teach for America; to lead other Bike and Build trips; and to develop academic programs in Croatia and businesses in Argentina. One of my trip-mates is a Rhodes Scholar. It is not a coincidence that we have such a high concentration of strong individuals, Dean Salovey.

Finally, I want to promise you that I will go on to best honor Dan Lewis and best support your students by advocating safer driving and making sure that our future riders at Bike and Build remain mindful of the rules of the road and signs of danger, and that they know that the skills they develop at Bike and Build will carry them as they become tomorrow’s leaders. I look forward to learning more of the feats that my cohorts and I will accomplish.

Erin Kinneen is a physical therapist in Seattle.

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