Worcester, Mass.
June 7, 1998

Put a lid on bike injuries

By Lynne Tolman

   Mary Fortunato-Habib of Paxton thought her fourth-grade daughter was being melodramatic when she announced, "I almost died today."
   Then she saw Nicolette's bike helmet -- cracked, dented and chipped. "I realized she was serious," Fortunato-Habib said. "That could have been her skull."
   Nicolette, 10, said she was riding down her driveway one day last fall, on her way to her friend's house across the street, when she hit a small rock and flew over the handlebars. "I hit my head on some stones," she said. "I landed on a stone about the size of your fist. My helmet was pretty smashed up ... I was pretty fine, though. I just had some cuts and scrapes."
   Needless to say, Nicolette is one kid whose parents don't have to nag her to wear her bike helmet (the hospital gave her a new one after the crash). "It's just a habit," she said.
   It's also the law in Massachusetts for bicycle riders and passengers ages 12 and under, and common sense at any age. Research shows that bike helmets reduce the risk of death and injury by as much as 85 percent. The National Safe Kids Campaign says the 26 percent nationwide drop in accidental childhood deaths in the past decade is largely credited to bike helmets and seat belts.
   Although the lid might look goofy, Nicolette said, "If you think about it, what's more important, saving your life or how you look?"
   "All the times I've been overcautious and drilled safety things into her, it really paid off," said her mother, director of patient services in the pediatric intensive care unit at University of Massachusetts Hospital in Worcester.
   Fortunato-Habib will be one of the UMass Memorial Health Care nurses working Saturday at the Tatnuck Watershed Festival in Worcester, helping to fit new helmets on bicyclists. The hospital has 500 children's and adult-sized helmets, valued at $20 each, to sell at the event for $5 apiece, first come, first served.
   The festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the public beach at Coes Reservoir on Mill Street with free admission, is subtitled "Major Taylor Recognition Day" in honor of the 1899 world champion cyclist who lived in Worcester. Mill Street, designated the Major Taylor Bikeway years ago, will be rededicated in the famous athlete's name, and the road will be closed to cars from Price Chopper to June Street so bicyclists can ride traffic-free.
   Joe Cote, 75, of Townsend, will display an antique, Fitchburg-made Iver Johnson bicycle identical to one that Marshall W. "Major" Taylor rode at the height of his cycling career. Taylor was the second black world champion in any sport, following bantamweight boxer George Dixon's 1890-91 title fights.
   Interest in Taylor's cycling feats has exploded as the centennial of his world championship sprint in Montreal approaches. A local group that wants to erect a statue of Taylor on Worcester Common formally organized this spring as the Major Taylor Humanitarian Association and will receive the money from Saturday's helmet sales.
   Also, UMass Memorial is taking its bike safety message to several Worcester elementary schools this week, complete with an "EggHead" helmet experiment and a presentation on Major Taylor.
   Members of the Hartford-based Octagon Cycling Club, whose African-American founders display a picture of their hero, Taylor, on their bike jerseys, will help out at Saturday's bike events, which include safety skills activities for youngsters.
   The Worcester chapter of MassBike, a statewide bicycling advocacy group, will have a drawing for a $30 gift certificate to Bicycle Alley. Anyone who joins MassBike during the festival is eligible to win the prize.
   The festival also will feature canoeing and hiking, horse-drawn wagon rides, environmental exhibits, UMass Memorial's Safe Summer Fun activities, and food prepared at Coes Cafe. The rain date is next Sunday. For more information, call (508) 753-2924.
   The New England Mountain Bike Association is having a silent online auction for 12 prize packages that include guest passes to a Volvo-Cannondale team party Aug. 18 in Bethel, Conn. Winners also will get a tour of Cannondale's new plant, $200 to $300 worth of bike merchandise, and an autograph session with the team -- including Olympic silver medalist Alison Sydor and former national champion Tinker Juarez.
   Credit-card bids (minimum $200) will be accepted until July 17 at For more information, call (800) 57-NEMBA.

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