Jerry Lynch gave up bicycle racing about four years ago, when he had his left hip replaced. But the veteran Masters cyclist did not give up training rides with his former Brazen Dropouts teammates.
And so it was that on the Fourth of July, he found himself pedaling among some 55 cyclists north of Madison.
Cue the foreboding music.
"There was a group of 25 or 30 people that met at Cronometro at 7:30 or so, and another bunch of riders we picked up at Reindahl Park," Lynch remembers. By about 10:15 a.m., the peloton had crossed the Dane-Columbia county line and was on final approach to Poynette.
"We were on, I think, Goose Pond Road," he continues, "and we got onto Tomlinson Road and through it all there was a section going downhill and the pace picked up from about 23 miles per hour to around 30."
Rowan Creek was to their left. "The guys in front were gonna sprint for the city limits sign for Poynette," Lynch says. He remembers struggling a bit to match the pace, and letting go of the top 15 or 20 riders as they raced ahead.
"I'm still out of the saddle," putting full weight into his pedals, he recalls. "Because the ride had broken into sprint mode, I was looking at the road and the other riders to make sure I didn't do anything out of school."
Gripping the drops of his handlebars, he looked up from the road in time for a glimpse of catastrophe. "I see up around where that rocking chair is," he says, pointing perhaps 10 feet across his living room, toward his right. The rocking chair stands in for something indistinct.
The last thing he remembers is a blurred instant, a flash of fur. A deer leaped into his path. With no time to react, Lynch hit it broadside and crashed to the pavement. "The next thing I know," he says, "I'm waking up in the ambulance."
Lynch - the northeast regional sales manager for Jost Chemical - was knocked unconscious. Fellow riders David Supple and Andy Swartz, both associate lecturers at the UW kinesiology department, put their First Aid training to work.
Swartz had been up ahead with the lead riders. "I heard people yelling, ‘Rider down,'" he says, "so I did a 180," and rode back to the scene of the crash. "When I got to Jerry, he was down on the road with his head almost on the centerline. He was unconscious but breathing, and there was a pool of blood under his head." Supple and Swartz's response was textbook First Aid: Assess and control the situation, call 911 and care for the victim until emergency medical personnel arrive.
Regaining consciousness, Lynch remained disoriented. Much of what he knows about the immediate aftermath is reconstructed from what witnesses have told him.
The deer, he has been told, landed on the far side of the road. Its back apparently broken, it was euthanized.
The first parts of Lynch to hit the pavement were his head and his right arm. He was wearing a Giro Eclipse helmet that did what it was designed to do: absorb much of the impact. In so doing, it may have saved his life and spared him from devastating neurological damage. One of the helmet's pressure points laid open a patch of his scalp. The bleeding was profuse, but Lynch says the wound required no stitches.
A concussion was later diagnosed. It could have been so much worse. He fetches the helmet. There is a crack in it at the point of impact. Had he not been wearing this shell, that crack might have come at a corresponding site on his skull - and Lynch might have been left as damaged and useless as the helmet is now.
The crash also shattered his right ulna. He points out the long scar that runs along his forearm, where a surgeon pieced the bone back together with a plate and six screws. Lynch still cannot quite extend his right arm all the way. At ease, the arm has an evident angle at the elbow, and his right wrist "is giving me grief."
His bicycle, a Klein Quantum Race with aluminum frame and carbon fork, fared better. The crash bent the handlebars "ever so slightly," Lynch says, and messed up the tape they were wrapped in, but that's about it. The bike is now at Cronometro for repairs.
Lynch, too, is on the mend. "I haven't been back on a bike yet," he says. His physician has instructed him to wait another week before riding. Meanwhile, he has begun training on a stationary bike.
This was not the first time Lynch crashed. At 47, after about 25 years and 50,000 miles of biking, he counts "12 significant wrecks," including one that fractured four vertebrae.
"It used to bother me more," interjects Joan, his wife, adding that she has grown used to the hazards of her husband's enthusiasm.
Lynch, meanwhile, has found renewed respect for First Aid training. Once certified in both First Aid and CPR, he notes that he is overdue for a refresher course that will qualify him for recertification.
He also expresses redoubled appreciation for helmets. "When I was younger, we'd ride 300 miles a week in training and we would not wear helmets," he recalls. Advances in design and esthetics have changed all that. Helmets have never been more comfortable, functional and cool. In the wake of last month's crash, Lynch observes, "I'm happy I was wearing my helmet."
At a noon awards luncheon next Wednesday, Lynch will receive this year's Saved by the Helmet Award in conjunction with the 32nd annual Governor's Conference on Highway Safety, scheduled for Aug. 23-24 at the Marriott West in Middleton. He has invited Supple and Swartz to join him.