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The road to healing

One year after nearly fatal accident, Betsy Richards completes ride

Betsy Richards, who was run over last year by a truck, is back in the saddle.

The Durango resident Friday completed a 30-mile bicycle ride that was cut short one year ago to the day in a horrific accident.

“It’s just a healing thing,” she said Friday. “I hope it’s healing for other people, too. Everybody has been through trauma.”

Richards, 52, was riding a road bike southbound on the West Frontage Road in Bodo Industrial Park when the driver of a Toyota Tundra pickup turned left without seeing her.

The impact sent Richards flying 20 feet through the air. In a state of panic, the driver apparently pressed the gas pedal instead of the brake, causing the truck to lurch forward over Richards – first the front wheel, then the back wheel.

“It’s amazing that I lived, for sure,” Richards said Friday.

“I do remember the grill of the truck being right beside me and my hand off the handlebar, and then I was hit and unconscious,” she said. “I remember the really good-looking paramedic guys. I was like ‘Ah, I wish I was 30 years younger.’”

Richards suffered a crushed pelvis, crushed right wrist, carotid artery damage, a detached urethra, a hole in her bladder, collapsed left lung, a wicked road burn to her right thigh, and peripheral nerve damage to her legs and upper abdomen.

“I thought she was going to die. I thought I was going to have to go to a funeral,” said RaNae Bakel, a friend who came to support Richards on Friday. “Treasure each day. You just don’t know how quickly it can end.”

Richards has undergone 13 surgeries and has several more to go. Her medical bills have exceeded $1 million. Had the accident happened 10 years ago, medical science many not have been advanced enough to save her, she said.

Neither police nor doctors were optimistic about her chances of survival.

On a crash report, a Durango Police Department officer checked a box that indicated it was a fatal crash, but later changed it.

On a medical form, a doctor at Mercy Regional Medical Center checked a box that read “substantial risk of death.” She was then flown to St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood.

The accident occurred at 10:31 a.m. Nov. 8, 2012, in the Centennial Center parking lot, where Office Depot and Creature Comforts are located.

Richards doesn’t harbor any ill feelings toward the driver – it’s not her style.

“It was kind of a stupid thing,” Richards said. “We all do stupid things. The consequences are big for me.”

Linda Wagner, 65, of Bayfield, pleaded guilty in June to careless driving.

Richards and Wagner agreed to participate in victim-offender mediation, a court service in which the victim and defendant meet in person and talk about how the incident has affected them.

Wagner wrote an apology letter that she read aloud to Richards, through a stream of tears.

Richards decided to mark the anniversary by completing her bike ride from Durango to Bondad and back, a typical ride for her that she used to do about twice a week.

About 50 friends and supporters joined her.

Durango Police Department motorcycle officer Rob Haukeness, who was first on scene last year, escorted the group, which left at 10:30 a.m.

“It’s great to see you,” Haukeness told Richards. “It was a horrible event for all of us.”

A temporary “shrine” was erected in the parking lot that included a cane, walker, wheelchair and potty chair – all used in Richards’ rehabilitation.

She maintains a sense of humor and sees the positive side in almost everything.

She hung a “prayer flag” – typically colorful pieces of cloth tied to a rope – but instead hung adult diapers, which she still uses.

Richards set up a table Friday with free coffee, police reports, pictures of her road to recovery, and X-rays depicting metal parts in her wrist and pelvis.

At the top of a police report, Richards wrote: “As close as it comes to reading your own obituary.”

Richards has come a long way in the last year.

She was in a wheelchair for four months. She had to relearn motor skills, including holding a fork and learning to walk. She still walks with a limp and usually uses a cane.

“I can actually ride a bike better than I can walk,” she said.

She attributes her recovery to a “feistiness to live.”

“I would wake up in the morning and I’d be in this fetal position,” she said. “I’d have to uncurl my fingers.

“Every day I do some sort of exercise. I don’t take a day off. You’ve got to fight it. You’ve got to make your muscles move.”

She competed in this year’s Road Apple Rally, a 30-mile, non-technical mountain bike race in Farmington. She had to push her bike up steep hills, but she still placed first in her age division – granted, there were only two people in her division, she said.

Richards has lived in Durango since 1979. During that time, she has worked as a teacher, math tutor, raft guide and for the Southwest Safehouse.

Before the accident, Richards competed in events ranging from the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic to cyclocross competitions. Not long before the crash, she founded Bucket List Bicycle Tours, a bicycle touring business. The first trip she led tracked the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge, which went from Durango to Denver.

Richards has largely given up road biking. She is now focused on cyclocross and mountain biking. She used a mountain bike with wide tires to complete Friday’s ride.

“I am probably going to stick to mountain biking,” she said. “I’m way flipped out about cars. You lose, no matter what. I don’t feel real comfortable riding on the roads.”

Richards said she’s doing as well as can be expected. She wants to keep improving physically and maintain a “glass-half-full” attitude.

“I have some more time. ... I’m really thankful.”

shane@durangoherald.com

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