The average adult makes somewhere around 35,000 decisions per day. Before setting out for a road ride on Sunday, three retired Olympians made a couple of casual ones.
First, former Canadian national-team members Robin Clegg (biathlon), Jason Myslicki (nordic combined) and Sean Crooks (cross-country skiing) decided to ride between 80 to 100 kilometers just outside Calgary, Alberta. Second, they picked a quiet township road, which would lead them to a coffee shop in the suburb of Cochrane.
In a phone conversation on Tuesday, Myslicki said he initially didn’t want to go that way. His friends and Rundle Mountain Cycling Club teammates out of Calgary and Canmore, Alberta, convinced him the road was newly paved and seldom used.
Cruising along the same road in a sport utility vehicle, one driver made some choices of his own. Upon approaching the three cyclists from behind, he honked his horn and buzzed by them, yelling that they shouldn’t ride on a road with no shoulder, according to Myslicki.
They reacted to the close call between the car and their bodies by yelling back, and the male driver responded by slamming his brakes just ahead of them. Myslicki and Crooks veered to the left to avoid colliding with his tailgate, and Clegg, who was behind them, went toward the opening on the right. The driver then allegedly accelerated, hitting Clegg with the front of his car and sending him crashing onto the ground.
A three-time Olympian who helped Canada place 10th in the relay at the 2010 Vancouver Games, Clegg, 35, never lost consciousness, but took the brunt of the fall on his right side. An ambulance transported him to the hospital, where he later had surgery to insert a plate in his broken elbow. According to Crooks, Clegg also broke his collarbone and potentially some ribs.
A 2006 Olympian who spent seven years on the Canadian National Ski Team, Crooks, 29, wrote in an email that he visited Clegg on Tuesday. “He is pretty beat up,” he wrote, but Clegg expected to be out of the hospital by Wednesday. Doctors estimated it would take 12 weeks for his elbow to heal.
“I’m frustrated with how some drivers perceive athletes training on the road,” Crooks wrote. “There are too many drivers out there who, for whatever reason, think it is a good idea to bully the athlete with their vehicle.”
As a competitive cyclist living and training in the area, he’s had several run-ins with drivers before. Unfortunately, Calgary is notorious for driver aggression toward bikers, he wrote. But he had never witnessed anything as bad as this.
“The guy was trying to scare us, and it went too far,” Crooks wrote. “I’ve had a few verbal confrontations in the past, but, honestly, when I see a vehicle stop to get angry for me being on the road, I’m not excited about what’s coming. With the skier/cyclist physique, I’m not looking for a physical confrontation. Also, chances are, this person is obviously irrational and is likely wearing much more stable footwear than I am.”
Myslicki said he threw up his hands as many cyclists do when drivers intentionally get too close. He pointed toward the road as if to say, ‘What’s your problem? It’s a wide-open road; it’s straight, it’s flat.’
“If it was a tractor driving on the road, you wouldn’t buzz them and honk,” Myslicki, 34, recalled thinking.
“It’s definitely a greater hatred towards cyclists,” the two-time Olympian said. “I feel a bit sorrowful for those people; I wonder how bad their lives are that they’re willing to go out of their way and ruin someone else’s life.”
After the incident, in which the Cochrane police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, emergency services and a fire crew responded, Myslicki and Crooks continued on their ride. At the time, they hadn’t been identified as Olympians – no one knew who they were – and they decided to keep the story under wraps.
Myslicki later reconsidered and made perhaps his second-most important choice that day, after his split-second reaction to swerve left and avoid the SUV. He wanted to go public with this.
He thought about his girlfriend and her family and all the other people he had turned onto cycling. After retiring, he, Clegg and Crooks became teammates at the Rundle Mountain Cycling Club (RMCC). They biked as frequently as they could together and each achieved the prestigious Category 2 in road racing.
“I’ve got to use this platform because it’s an opportunity to raise awareness for cycling,” Myslicki told himself Sunday. “If I can prevent even one person from bullying a guy on a bike then we’re getting somewhere as far as that’s concerned.”
He contacted the Calgary Herald that evening, and by Monday morning, his phone was lighting up with press inquiries. Myslicki said he also spoke with Calgary’s mayor and several administrators about the incident, which was still under investigation.
According to Myslicki, there was at least one witness – a woman in another vehicle who was an unknown distance behind – but he wasn’t sure what she reported.
“I haven’t heard of what precedent is out there,” he said of the punishment for aggressive driving toward cyclists. “We’re hoping that someone makes an example of it.”