I could be the safest bicyclist I know. I teach people how to ride bikes in the city as part of my job at two nonprofits—the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and Gearing Up. Off the clock, I’m a bicycle evangelist who encourages everyone to give two-wheeled transportation a try. But my enthusiasm was recently challenged.
Days before Christmas, I was biking home, heading west on Reed Street past the Acme in South Philly. I turned south where the trolley tracks turn north at 11th and Reed, and suddenly, my bike slipped out from under me and I was on the ground.
I had no time to break my fall. As always, I was wearing a helmet, but somehow my face was the only part that hit the pavement. Spitting pieces of my teeth out, I quickly scrambled up and out of the street. As blood gushed from my chin, I realized I couldn’t open my mouth very far. I managed to call my friend Megan, a colleague at the Bicycle Coalition, who drove me to the ER. An hour later in a medicated daze at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, I was told by doctors that my jaw was broken in three places, five of my back teeth had partially shattered and my mouth would have to be wired shut for a month. Three nights later, with two titanium plates in my jaw and mountains of dental work in my future, I was discharged from the hospital.
I spent Christmas sipping protein shakes, lamenting whenever I smelled my dad’s cooking (woe is the woman on a liquid diet for the holidays), cancelling New Year’s travel plans and generally feeling like a depressed failure. I thought about giving up on biking and buying some SEPTA tokens, but I soon discovered a wellspring of resilience that I didn’t know I had, thanks to an outpouring of support from Philadelphia’s bicycling community. I had hospital visits from both of my bosses, a card signed by youth at Neighborhood Bike Works, flowers sent from Fuji Bikes, and many emails, Facebook messages and cards offering encouragement and advice about getting back on the bike.
Despite being embarrassed that I had fallen, I posted about my crash in the Facebook group I moderate, Women Bike PHL. Local women shared their own stories of trolley track run-ins, wished me a speedy recovery and reminded me that no form of transportation is risk-free. One even wrote, “It’s not like we give up on walking when the sidewalk is uneven and we trip and fall on our face.” No one questioned whether I would ride again. It was only a question of when.
Their confidence that I would get back on my bike helped make it inevitable.
Now, months later, I still have quite a bit of healing (and dental work) to go, but my jaw is no longer wired shut and I’m proud to be pedaling again. If anything, my crash and the outpouring of love that followed it have only renewed my passion for bicycling, and for Philadelphia’s growing bicycle community. I feel incredibly fortunate to be doing what I love, alongside people I love. And it’s heartening to learn that even a big ol’ face-plant can’t keep me from it for long.
Katie Monroe is the Women Bike PHL Coordinator at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, and Communications & Community Liaison at Gearing Up. She recently participated in #WEBiketoDC, a group bike ride from New York City to Washington, D.C., to promote women’s bicycling programs.