Crash-iversary

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

As many runners and walkers crossed the finish line at Bridgton’s 4 On The Fourth Road Race, they likely felt relief, satisfaction and accomplishment.

TEAM DEXTER — Looking to promote the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s message of “Share the Road” during Bridgton’s 4 On The Fourth Road Race were members of Team Dexter: (top, left to right) Dottie Dexter, Martha Arnold, Sam Dexter, Ben Dexter, Jim Gilchrist, Maria Delbeccaro Gilchrist, Ann Dexter, Hannah Dexter; (front row) Mark Arnold, Karla Barrett, Cindy Dexter, Elizabeth Dexter and Bill Dexter.

For good friends Mark Arnold and Bill Dexter, it was a time of extreme triumph.

A year ago, the two men suffered serious injuries when they were struck by a vehicle around 10 a.m. while riding their bicycles on Route 113 in Brownfield.

An 82-year-old man from Windham told police he “didn’t see” the cyclists while he was traveling in the 55-mph stretch of road.

The crash left both men unconscious. Arnold was taken to The Memorial Hospital in North Conway, N.H. Dexter, who sustained more serious injuries, was initially transported to Bridgton Hospital, but later was transferred to Maine Medical Center via LifeFlight.

After months and months of rehabilitation and subsequent surgeries, both men were able to walk the Bridgton four-miler. It was a time of personal triumph, as well as an opportunity to create public awareness about “Sharing the Road.” The men along with other Team Dexter members wore bright yellow Bike Coalition of Maine t-shirts during the 35th annual Bridgton race.

“The Bicycle Coalition of Maine does a good job at advocating at local, regional and state levels for bicycle safety. My/our walk was just a little statement on our part to help raise awareness,” Dexter said. “Bike versus car, the bicyclist always loses. I have often seen drivers swerve to avoid small animals in the road, yet not accord the same respect to bicyclists. I drive. I used to bike. I am okay with slowing down when needed to allow a bicyclist safe passage.”

Arnold, who has spent many summer days with his friend at his Moose Pond camp, enjoyed the four-mile walk.

“Martha (his wife) and I thoroughly enjoyed being part of Team Dexter on the Fourth. Life is fragile, and it was great to be in an event with such energy (and no old drivers),” Arnold said.

Like his friend, Mark Arnold hoped others saw their message and will be more careful when they confront cyclists along the roadway.

“Far too often, people are operating vehicles in way too much of a hurry and/or in a very distracted manner,” he said. “We, especially Bill, are prime examples of the catastrophic outcome when things go badly. Nothing, I repeat nothing, is more important to avoid operating a car in a foolish and distracted manner.”

Day They Won’t Forget

Bill Dexter has always loved spending time at the family camp on Moose Pond. His family has spent summers there since 1965.

A physician and director of Sports Medicine at Maine Medical Center (he started the program 15 years ago and he also serves as team doctor for the University of Southern Maine Huskies), Bill stopped running the Bridgton race because of knee issues.

So, he convinced his good friend, Mark Arnold (who resides in Lower Gwyneed, Pa.), to start a new Fourth tradition — cycling.

“Last year, we were about 12 miles into our ride, riding single file with Mark in front of me, on Route 113. We were struck from behind. It is unclear how or why this happened. He (the driver) hit us at great speed and darn near killed us. Fortunately, we both were knocked unconscious from the initial blow,” Bill remembered. “From there on, I can only report what I have been told as I have little to no recollection for the events of the day.”

Mark added, “The Fourth is really a daze.”

First on the accident scene was a “good Samaritan” who had emergency medical training.

“He knew not to move me. This turned out to be a good thing as I had a burst fracture on my spine (T5) and if I had been rolled, it likely would have severed my spinal chord,” Bill said. “He also helped stabilize Mark, organized others and called 9-1-1.”

The man also found Mark’s cell phone, and contacted the men’s wives, staying on the line until they were being transported to hospitals.

Mark suffered “whiplash” to his neck, broken ribs, stress fractures of some vertebrae, an extruded herniated disc and “tons of road rash.” He was hospitalized two days in North Conway.

Bill was in graver condition. He numerous fractures to his ribs, spine, pelvis, right wrist and ankle. He also had collapsed lungs, “which might have killed me except for the incredibly professional and expert and prompt care I received from the Fryeburg Rescue (personnel),” Bill said.

“They are the true heroes of this story,” he added. “They not only recognized the lung trauma, but knew what to do and did it. They restored my breathing and literally saved my life. I do recall, clearly, thinking that I was dying, and then all of a sudden, I was breathing and aware of being alive. Not conscious, just aware I was alive.”

Mark gave a “huge shout-out” to Fryeburg Rescue personnel and The Memorial Hospital for their “excellent care.”

Bill spent a week in intensive care and a second week at Maine Medical Center. He then went through some rehabilitation over a two-week period at New England Rehab. Then came the long recovery.

“It was months weaning out of a wheelchair, relearning how to walk. The pain in those early months was really quite remarkable. The resulting disabilities have required my adapting to a new reality in terms of what I can do physically. Certainly, I have struggled emotionally and am so very fortunate to have a life partner, in my wife Cindy (who is a nurse practitioner at MMC), who really lives the ‘for better or worse’ part of the marriage vows,” said Bill, who noted that the couple has three children — Ben (25), Sam (22) and Hannah (18 and entering her sophomore year at UMaine). “She has been my rock.”

Bill has undergone 12 surgical procedures, the last one was four weeks ago. “Mentally, I have not seemed to have sustained any damage, but you will have to ask those around me if I have got that one right,” he joked.

Mark too is still on the mend. “I got hit by a car going plus 55 mph, think about that. I’m still on the mend 12 months later, and frankly, I will never be back to where I was before,” he said. “On the other hand, I got off ‘lightly’ versus Bill. It was really difficult to see a dear, dear friend get hurt so badly.”

Mark too admires the care his wife, Martha, showed him during his recovery. “I definitely married well,” said Mark as he and Martha celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary this past Monday. The couple have one child, Eric, who celebrated his 21st birthday last week.

As a chance to note, not celebrate the “crashiversary,” Mark and Bill decided to walk the Bridgton 4 On The Fourth.

“It was the farthest I have been able to travel under my own power since the accident,” Bill said. “So very satisfying, indeed.”

Bill truly hopes the message of “Sharing the Road” hits home, thus avoiding future collisions between cycling enthusiasts and the driving public.

“I had been actively riding for about 10 years, having completed the Loon Echo 100 Trek (great event, by the way, and a great cause!) as well as the Trek Across Maine. I had commuted frequently by bicycle from my home in Cumberland to Maine Med. I loved bicycling. Great exercise; the freedom of movement; connection with the areas traveled through; camaraderie with the bicycling community. I have not yet been back on a bike, at least one that moves — this is currently under negotiations with Cindy,” Bill said.

For Bill, he now has been involved in two cycling accidents. His first encounter with a motor vehicle resulted in a concussion. “Fortunately, no big damage done,” he said. “Maine has been ranked as the second most bicycle friendly state in the country. I guess I might take issue with that. Lack of proper shoulders, drivers who do not pay attention — texting, eating, shaving, doing their make-up, watching i-Pads, reading, brushing their teeth, on their phones, all behaviors I have witnessed while biking — the list goes on and not abiding by the state law that requires a three-foot minimum distance from bicyclists.”

A message Bill sends out to the cycling community is wear a helmet!

“My head, brain, life was saved during the collision by my helmet,” he said. “They (helmets) work!”

Despite all that the two men experienced, Mark Arnold still maintains a sense of humor.

“When visiting the Dexters in Cumberland in December, I told Bill (tongue in cheek) that I was going to write a book about our experiences with the title, No Highway for Old Men. Humor is good medicine,” he said.

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