I grew up on the back of my parents’ motorcycles. I still remember riding between my father and sister while she held his leather jacket, securing me between them. I have vivid memories of our 2.5 acres in Stormville, NY, and all of the mini-bikes, trikes, and dirt bikes that we rode. At age 16 my mother took me to NYS Department of Motor Vehicles to get my automobile and motorcycle permits. My parents gave me my first street-legal motorcycle then, and I remember being so excited about that 250cc Yamaha that I named it “Ying.” That October I took both of my road tests, passing my motorcycle test and but failing the automobile test! I continued to ride Ying all winter, and the following spring I purchased a 1981 650cc Yamaha Maximum. I called her “Sheba” and rode her to California that September.
Two months later my boyfriend was killed while riding Sheba, racing on the 405 freeway on his way to pick me up from work. He crashed into a disabled truck as he tried to pass the car in front of him and died of head trauma. He wasn’t wearing a helmet. He was only 19 years old, and his death stole my dreams and left me brokenhearted. Like so many before me that had lost a loved one to a motorcycle accident, I was faced with the decision to either get back on a motorcycle or give up riding forever. I was tormented by the belief that my motorcycle had taken my boyfriend’s life. It took time and self-reflection to realize that the bike wasn’t responsible; rather, his youthful spirit and invincible attitude were the culprits. I had to accept that he wasn’t properly trained and that, unlike me, he hadn’t been riding for most of his life. Like so many others, he learned the operation of a motorcycle from friends in a parking lot. That awareness brought meaning to the tragedy when it hit me that I, like my mother Diana, found that my purpose was to educate riders and spare them the horrors of a motorcycle accident. And so, several years later, in the spring of 1986, I became an instructor at my mother’s recently opened motorcycle driving school. My need to “get back on the horse” and feel the wind again was as overwhelming as my desire to put to rest the guilt associated with my loss. My mother understood this, and with her help, I found my savior: a 1979 1340cc Harley-Davidson Low Rider that was for sale by one of the members of Lost Wheels Motorcycle Club, which my mother was a member. I called him Gandalf. I wanted the security of a bigger, heavier bike, and when I released Gandalf’s clutch my soul was rekindled with joy. Diana, despite the preparation and expense of sending three of her five kids to college that year, gave me most of the money to buy Gandalf because she knew that getting back on the motorcycle was the only way to heal my aching heart.
Many years later, I was sideswiped by a tractor trailer while riding my mother’s 1985 red full-dress Harley-Davidson on the New York State Thruway. After being on life support in a medically induced coma for six weeks, I awoke to see my parents at my bedside. I had amnesia due to the traumatic brain injury. Twelve weeks after the accident my mother came to my bedside in rehab with two large shopping bags. She sat at the edge of my bed, looked at me with her loving eyes and softly asked, “Would you like to know who you were?”
I nodded fearfully. She opened the bags and began to read to me all of the cards and letters. One after the next I listened as she read. They were get-well wishes from people that I had instructed. Some were from motorcyclists that I had never met. My mother carefully pinned each card on the bare hospital wall at the foot of my bed. As she finished reading the last card, late into the night, I looked up at her and in a confused voice and with teary eyes I asked “So, I am a motorcycle instructor?” She simply answered in her soft gentle tone, “That is who you were.” She paused and smiled at me, “Who you will be now, is up to you.” Once more I was called to choose between riding again or hanging up my leathers for good. Looking at all of those cards in the following weeks gave me the courage and strength to get out of that hospital bed, then out of my wheelchair, and months later, back in the saddle. Most of my doctors and, in truth, most of my non-riding friends thought that I was mad for ever planning to ride again after the life threatening trauma and life-altering injuries that I had just barely survived. A common thread runs through the fabric of each motorcycle rider: we know that the exhilaration and love of the ride transcends words and for us it represents a passion for life itself. That is what sustains us beyond the scars and the pain.
Although my heart had arrived at the decision to ride again, my body was not ready. My left elbow was shattered at the joint and the bone.
After the accident, the ER doctors had set my arm at a fixed 90-degree angle.
The insurance company deemed my arm ”functional” because I was able to move all of my fingers. However, I could not extend my arm in order to reach the clutch nor was I able to bend my arm enough to put on my helmet. I became painfully aware of my predicament when I maxed out my insurance coverage and found that I did not qualify for No-Fault Insurance. I knew that I would never be able to ride again without the use of my arm. I resorted to pleading with Westchester Medical Center’s teaching department to do the surgery necessary to repair my arm. They agreed to do the surgery at no cost, but with a catch: they would not cover any recovery expenses or the therapy that would be required to make the surgery a “success.” After the surgery, I had to have a “continuous-passive-motion” apparatus that cranked my arm up and down for 8–10 hours a day in order to stretch the muscles and tendons that had shrunk due to muscle atrophy. The apparatus daily cost was $750.00 per day. Without No-Fault Insurance coverage to supplement my lost wages, during the year of recuperation, I lost everything.
Diana, in her characteristic benevolence, came through. She organized a Ride-In Rodeo and called on all of our friends and fellow motorcyclists, who, once again, answered the call. They gave of their hearts and I was able to get the surgery and therapy that I needed. Because of their generosity, I was able to fulfill my dream to ride again and to teach again. Since then, I have taught hundreds of new drivers.
I feel extremely fortunate to have had the support and love of my immediate family as well as that of my motorcycle family. I know that I was able to survive the crash due to my extensive riding experience, and my protective gear. The outstanding medical team of devoted Doctors and Nurses, along with power of prayer kept me alive. The motorcycle community, family and friends gave me the courage to fight for my recovery.
The Diana’s Motorcyclist Foundation wants to be there for all the riders who are not as fortunate. We want “us” the motorcycle community and all its supporters, to allow each person the dignity to choose weather or not to return to riding or to give it up…NOT to have that choice taken away from them.