An Auckland cyclist who suffered terrible neck and head injuries in a commuter crash is demanding drivers cool off and open their eyes.
Ultra-marathon runner, solo mum and general manager Vicki Woolley, 49, of Laingholm in West Auckland has a titanium plate in her neck and a traumatic injury to her brain because of the crash on Titirangi Rd at just after 8.30am on May 9. She was on her way to work in Kingsland.
The mother of two boys, aged 11 and 14, Woolley said emergency services didn't at first know if she would survive the accident and still does not know if she will ever run again.
Wearing a helmet and fluoro, reflectorised gear and with lights on front and back, she had been riding downhill when a car came out frontwards from a driveway on the left of the road, beyond parked cars. She moved right to try to steer around the car, but it continued coming out, apparently for a right turn. Woolley braked and shouted.
"My left leg took the brunt of the impact. I flew over the bonnet without touching it and landed on my head, then flipped over twice before I came to rest."
Woolley has now penned an open letter to Auckland drivers, in which she questions how they seem not to see her and asks if their fragile egos are offended at being passed by a smaller "vehicle".
The crash left her with lacerations, a broken finger, two dislocated, fractured vertebrae in her neck and a "monster concussion" which, more than a month later, is not resolving.
She had spinal surgery at Middlemore Hospital and said she was fortunate it was done so quickly - within seven hours - reducing the severity of her neck injury's effects. She has escaped paralysis, but a patch of permanent damage to her spinal cord has left her with reduced sensation, mobility and strength in her hands and arms.
In an instant, the crash altered her life.
"Before the accident - I'm an ultra-marathon runner and also a very high-functioning individual. This is like running into a brick wall."
Overnight I've morphed into an old person with dementia. That's how it feels.
"I have gone from cycling 200km a week, running 100km a week, yoga, swimming - I'm a fulltime single parent and I work in the city as the general manager of a company.
"I now spend my day sitting around on the couch. I can't even read because I read a page and a half and I can't see the words any more. I get up to go somewhere and I forget where I'm going.
"Overnight I've morphed into an old person with dementia. That's how it feels."
"After I realised I was alive and was going to get to watch my kids growing up ... the next most important question was will I run again. At this stage, I don't know.
"I'm an incredibly positive person, and overwhelmingly grateful to be alive. But at the same time, it's a shitty situation. Life as I have known it and the future I thought I had isn't there any more."
Police said a woman aged 71 would face a charge of careless or inconsiderate use of a vehicle causing injury.
Woolley said she experienced aggressive, risky driving frequently on Auckland roads but her worst previous crash was when she was "filled up with gravel" in Whangarei when a cricket bat was held out a car window and "smacked" her off her bike.
She said drivers often closed gaps on jammed-up roads to prevent her riding beside them to the front of the queue, passed too close, and cut in front of her for left turns.
"There are cities in the world where cyclists and motorists [co-exist] peacefully. Auckland is not one of them."
She is calling on Auckland drivers to drop the aggro, look for cyclists, and realise that they each represent one less car on the road, and one more carpark for a driver.
Bike Auckland chairwoman Barbara Cuthbert said car drivers not looking for cyclists and not seeing them was a major problem, particularly in Auckland. This was reflected in the growing danger of the region's roads.
The number of people killed on Auckland roads in the past three years rose by 78 per cent, an increase more than three times the 23 per cent rise for the rest of the country.
"Car drivers look for things that are a threat to them," Cuthbert said. "Cyclists aren't a threat to them."
"This poor woman [Woolley], she's another victim of ignorant road behaviour where people are in charge of vehicles that are very dangerous and they are not looking, or not seeing."
Vicki Woolley's open letter
Dear Auckland Drivers,
A few weeks ago I was hit by a car while cycling to work. My neck was broken. Various medical personnel rushed to save my life and prevent me from becoming quadriplegic. They succeeded, and I get to watch my children grow. Lucky, lucky me.
Auckland Drivers, I am not a ranty person. In fact, I pride myself on my ability to usually see both sides of a situation, without judgement.
But here's the thing. I have been cycling to work for a year, and EVERY SINGLE DAY I witness a car vs motor/cyclist minor incident or near miss. Friends who have long since given up two-wheeled commuting came to see me in ICU. They shrugged nonchalantly: "Ah Vicki, it was always going to happen… it's a numbers game."
Why, Auckland Drivers? Why? Do you not realise who I am? I am ONE LESS CAR on the road. That means you are ONE CAR LENGTH ahead – and I know how important that is to those with small penises or angry women's syndrome. I am also ONE LESS CARPARK you have to fight for when you reach your destination!
So WHY do you either ignore me, or treat me as competition? Why pull out in front of me, cut me off or speed past so close I am edged off the road or forced to use the middle lane? Do you genuinely not see me? Because, Auckland Drivers, with my fluorescent clothing and flashing lights, that raises the question as to whether you would see a less brightly-heralded child running out after a ball. Do you simply misjudge my speed… or is being passed by a smaller 'vehicle' more than your fragile ego can handle? And does this inexplicable power play deliver you to work any faster? I doubt it!
There is a solution, Auckland Drivers, and YOU are part of that.
Unbelievably… if my neck heals properly; if I get sufficient strength/mobility back in my damaged hands and arms, and if my confidence returns, I would like to return to cycle commuting. But only if we can make a deal. I will continue to be ONE LESS CAR on the road. YOU keep your eyes peeled… and respect my right to be out there.
Desperately seeking visibility,
Broken of Laingholm.