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Shawn Bradley using his fame, tragedy to educate, bring awareness for bicycle safety

Former BYU and NBA star Shawn Bradley was paralyzed after bike accident in St. George in January

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Dallas’ Shawn Bradley drives on the Jazz’s Greg Ostertag under the basket on March 5, 1997.

Kristan Jacobsen, Deseret News

Shawn Bradley paralyzed?

His entire world in the august of his life as a father, husband, grandfather turned upside down after paying his dues and earning money as an NBA player? That dream of living in St. George and recreating just turned into something else?

I am so sorry for what’s happened to Bradley, a decent, kind, effervescent, righteous soul.

While riding a bike in St. George in January, he was hit from behind by a motorist. He underwent neck fusion surgery and has been rehabbing since. But, he is paralyzed. The news is stunning.

In a press release sent out for him by the Dallas Mavericks, Bradley said he wanted to use his misfortune for good, to educate people and raise public awareness to the importance of bicycle safety.

I’d like to pitch in and help with that campaign, Shawn.

I know plenty of people who’ve been hit while riding bikes. And I’m married to a driver who is extremely cautious of bike riders on highways — they scare her to death because she feels like she may hit them as they peddle along a canyon roadway, hugging the edge of the asphalt.

Former BYU athletic director Val Hale was riding near Saratoga Springs when a truck towing a trailer passed him. The trailer hit him, knocking him off his bike. He could have been killed.

A good friend, Mary Whitehead, was riding her bike near 800 North in Orem when she came to an intersection and stopped. A driver of a car at that intersection also stopped. They made eye contact and Mary, believing the driver was yielding, peddled forward just as the driver pressed the pedal to advance. The car struck her ankle, breaking it in pieces, requiring surgery with plates and screws. It’s been 18 months and she is still enduring aggravating pain.

I had a former missionary companion, Dennis Rowley, a shoemaker and father of five young kids, who was riding home from work in Salt Lake City when he was struck from behind and killed. That’s been decades ago. He has grandkids who never knew him. 

What to do? How do we become more aware of dangers?

I asked Casey Ruff, 37, of South Jordan, a diehard bike enthusiast, former manager of a bike shop and current workout guru at Boundless Body, to educate me on what’s at stake. His wisdom is good.

Ruff is the son of ABC4 Utah TV sports anchor Wes Ruff.

“Knock on wood, I’ve never been hit,” he said. “There have been some close calls. I do have friends who have been hit while riding.

“It depends where you’re out on the road, but by and large, people are not really paying attention to you,” said Ruff. “You have to be on high alert all the time. You have to make sure you are taking the right routes, you have to ride smart.”

Ruff said riders should have the attitude of it’s not if you are going to get hit, but when are you going to get hit. You have to have a defensive mindset, like you are invisible and people just do not see you at all. 

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Casey Ruff, former owner of a bike shop and current workout guru at Boundless Body, is well aware of the many dangers related to cyclists and motorists.

Courtesy Casey Ruff

Ruff has mountain and road bikes for racing. He’s been riding competitively off and on since he was in his teens. He knows the game, the sport and has a feel for what’s wrong or right as a rider or a driver of a vehicle.

Ruff also knows plenty of riders who have been hit, mostly from behind, just like Bradley. “It is pretty common.” Ruff said imagine riding in a canyon corridor going 20 miles an hour and a car comes up from behind going about 50. 

“If someone is texting, on a phone, distracted, or sees oncoming traffic, they can easily drift into you,” he said.

Ruff has plenty of advice for bike riders and he sees many not giving car drivers the proper signals for turns and slowing down. Another issue is riding in packs, in groups and crowding the road, creating a hazard.

“A big one that I wish more cyclists would be on the lookout for is called getting doored.  It’s when you are riding next to a bunch of parked cars and not realizing someone is in the driver’s seat,” he said. “Imagine riding 20 miles per hour and all of a sudden somebody opens their car door in front of you and a steel wall is right in front of you that wasn’t there two seconds ago.”

Ruff first got involved in cycling when Lance Armstrong became world champion. He loves riding, fixing bikes, helping family and friends to enjoy and get the most out of the sport. He sees it as a great way to exercise and enjoy the outdoors. He’s raced for 10 years but he now rides for fun.

That’s exactly what Shawn Bradley was doing, riding for fun.

“A few summers I did a program where people could sign up, we would meet in a certain place and discuss all the safety protocols, how to communicate,” said Ruff.

It’s all about being aware and paying attention as both riders and drivers.

Bradley, in his suffering, is using his brand for his cause.

Good for you, big guy.

We’re praying for you and your healing.

And in your name, let’s ask everyone to take a moment to reflect. How can we do this better on our roadways?