Ride to raise awareness under tragic backdrop

ALISON KORN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:29 AM ET

Eight years ago, Olympic cross country skier Devon Kershaw's girlfriend was killed after being hit by a car while training on their bikes in their hometown of Sudbury.

Sofie Manarin was 17, Kershaw was 18, and they had been dating for a year. Both talented skiers on the junior national team, they had taken different cycling routes that day. Kershaw then happened to take the same road Manarin had rode just a few minutes earlier, and he came upon the accident scene.

"I came across her bike all mangled up, and cop cars, and ended up riding to the hospital and had to ID her, and she ended up passing away that day," Kershaw recalled.

"It was something that affected me deeply in my life, and it took me a few years to get back on my bike after that accident.

"Now, I feel as though I've got myself under control enough to make a difference."

Kershaw is partnering with the Share the Road Cycling Coalition, a provincial, grassroots cycling advocacy organization started by Eleanor McMahon, who lost her husband, OPP Serg. Greg Stobbart, when he was killed on a training ride on his bike in the Halton Hills in June 2006. McMahon and Kershaw are holding a 15-kilometre Share the Road Ride in Sudbury on Tuesday to raise awareness for the importance of sharing the road safely in order to prevent further tragedies.

"It's just a simple message, really," said Kershaw. "Be aware when you're driving a motor vehicle. All it takes is for somebody to slip in their concentration. These are avoidable accidents."

Cross-country skiers do a lot of cycling and roller skiing in the summer.

Kershaw, now based in Canmore, Alta., is on the road for hours every day for training.

A 2003 Toronto bicycle/motor vehicle collision study found that approximately 1,200 vehicle-bike collisions are reported each year, resulting in an average of three cyclist fatalities and more than 1,000 injuries.

It found that, while there may be a perception many cyclists recklessly disobey stop signs and traffic signals, fewer than 3% of collisions involve a cyclist failing to stop at a controlled intersection.

The majority of collisions was found to have occurred at intersections and most of those involved vehicle-turning manoeuvres.

Away from intersections, collisions most often involved motorists overtaking cyclists, or opening car doors in the paths of cyclists. In the central area of the city, the most frequent type of collision involved a motorist opening their door and striking a cyclist.

"My theory is at least part of it is rooted in lack of education and understanding," McMahon said.

"There is a sliver of motorist who will never believe or support that cyclists are entitled to a place on the road. The gap in understanding is something we can fix."

Over the past two years, McMahon has met with politicians from all three levels of government, law enforcement officials, cycling advocates, planners and municipal officials in Canada, the U.S. and Europe with a view to creating a bicycle-friendly Ontario.

She has lobbied for Bill 126, the Ontario Road Safety Act, to ensure that those caught driving under suspension will receive a penalty that will include a seven-day vehicle impoundment.

The amendments, known as "Greg's Law," target motorists who drive suspended, unlicensed and uninsured -- like the one who killed Stobbart.

The fourth annual "Share the Road for Greg Ride" will be Sept. 20 on the same rural route in Milton where Stobbart was killed.

The ride will kick off the Ontario Bike Summit in Waterloo Sept. 21-22.

McMahon is looking forward to meeting Kershaw in Sudbury next week.

"I'm just so delighted that someone of Devon's calibre has decided to lend his name and stature and dedication to this cause," McMahon said.

"I know that our discussions will be tinged with a little bit of sadness that comes from sharing a tragic circumstance."


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