Cyclist credits helmet for saving his life

by Sgt. Fabian Ortega
U.S. Army in Europe Public Affairs

HEIDELBERG, Germany — Col. Michael G. Koba said the driver of the vehicle that caused him to slam into the ground helmet first, compressing his spine and damaging four vertebra, didn’t see him riding his bicycle that Saturday afternoon in October.

“I was crossing an intersection when I saw a car coming toward me. In order for me to avoid the car, I slammed on my brakes,” Colonel Koba said. The car didn’t hit him, but that action flipped him and his bike in the air.

Colonel Koba, deputy chief of operations for U.S. Army in Europe, has been cycling since high school. He arrived in Germany during the summer of 2009 and bought a bike to get to and from work, he said.

Colonel Koba is like many who are overseas and learn that Europe is full of flat lands, river valleys, canals and bike trails.

“I discovered that Germany had some great biking opportunities. I began biking seriously again,” he said.

After the accident, Colonel Koba was in the hospital for 14 days. He had a broken wrist and had to have a vertebrae replaced, requiring two rods and eight screws.

“I had significant injuries as a result of the accident, but they would have been much more extensive, if not life-threatening, had I not worn a helmet, which was the first point of impact,” Colonel Koba said.

The helmet was completely crushed but it did its job, he said.

“Head injuries are a big concern,” said Dave Scott, safety division chief for USAREUR. “Bicycling is popular, so the probability of serious accidents is there for youth and adults.”

Broken bones, cuts, road rash and head injuries are the painful reminders of being thrown from a bike, he said.

Like motorcycle helmets, bicycle helmets are a Department of Defense requirement for anyone cycling on military installations, Mr. Scott said.

“It’s also a requirement for Soldiers to always wear a helmet whether on or off the installation, on or off duty,” he added.

Helmets should also be replaced after any type of impact.

 “A helmet should always be replaced after an accident, even if it does not appear to be damaged,” Mr. Scott said. Helmets absorb the impact by compressing internally. The hidden damage will significantly reduce its effectiveness.

Colonel Koba also advises cyclists to pay attention to the vehicles on the road because they aren’t always paying attention to the cyclists.

“I thought my biggest vulnerability was the darkness to and from work,” he said.
Still undergoing physical therapy for his injuries and not yet able to ride, Colonel Koba said his goal is to participate in the 2011 “Road to Liberty” in Bastogne, Belgium.

The colonel also offered one last bit of advice.

“Be safe and don’t be afraid to ride. It’s a great way to see Europe,” he said.