Laura Stark plans to finish the bike ride she was forced to quit more than 18 months ago.
Cyclists Stark, now 28, and Anne Davis, 22, were struck by a motorist July 2016 on U.S. Highway 26 outside Idaho Falls. Police determined the driver, Patricia Beyer, was distracted on her way home from work.
Davis was killed. Stark was paralyzed and spent several days in critical condition with spine and lung injuries, as well as broken bones.
The two women were finishing an 85-mile day with Bike & Build, a nonprofit that raises awareness and money for affordable housing through cross-country cycling trips that also incorporate community service. Their ultimate destination was Cannon Beach, Oregon, but they never got there.
As Stark recovered from the collision in a hospital bed at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, several dozen of her Bike & Build teammates completed the route and dipped their bicycle wheels into the Pacific Ocean. On July 13, the two-year anniversary of the collision, Stark plans to do the same.
As documented in a blog post Thursday, Stark will return to Idaho Falls this summer, handcycle in tow, and head west.
“It isn’t fair Anne and I weren’t given the opportunity to finish this trip, so I want to bring her memory with me and reach the coast — I want to show that being in a wheelchair doesn’t mean I can’t finish my goals,” Stark said. “A lot of people think this will be really hard for me. I like to put people’s disbelief to rest.”
Stark spent more than six weeks recovering at EIRMC before flying home to Garden City, Michigan. Her rehabilitation in Eastern Idaho was just the beginning, however. The process continues today.
In a post on her blog, justkeepspinning.net, Stark compared her recovery to the growth of a newborn.
“In a baby’s life, so much change happens in such a short time. A month can mean learning to eat, sitting up, talking,” she wrote. “That’s how my months have been since paralysis — every month a milestone.”
Stark said the lack of independence, and the compulsion to reject help for mundane tasks, was initially disheartening.
The experience has been eye-opening, Stark said, especially figuring out firsthand the world is designed for the standing.
Stark purchased a handcycle in July to stay active; she also attends multiple types of physical therapy per month. Father Darin Stark said his daughter is well-suited to the hard work of reinventing her lifestyle.
“It’s a full-time job for sure,” Darin said. “But nothing will hold her back. When she wants to do something she’ll find her way.”
Laura moved into her own apartment a few months ago. To escape the winter air, she rigged her handcycle to an indoor trainer. In time, Laura hopes to develop the upper body strength needed to traverse the 780-odd miles between Idaho Falls and the Oregon coast.
“There’s not a lot of rest for my arms, shoulder and back, because those are the same muscles I use in my chair,” Laura said. “It’s very hard, but I’m almost there.”
She plans to depart from Idaho Falls on June 18.
Laura doesn’t feel trepidation over coming back to Eastern Idaho; she has already returned for court proceedings and to visit her former doctors and physical therapists. But the scene of the accident may evoke “a lot of emotions.”
“I think that will be difficult to bring to the forefront again. After all of this, there are still distracted drivers, and yes, it could happen again. How do you educate the whole world about that?” Laura said.
Laura has reached out to riders from the 2016 Bike & Build trip to join her in finishing the route. Her father also will travel part of the way.
Darin would prefer his daughter wait a few years before traveling to the coast, but he knows that’s not how she lives — now or ever.
He recalled buying Laura and her twin sister bicycles when they were 4 years old.
Laura’s sister was thrilled by the training wheels Darin bolted onto her bike. Laura, however, was upset. She refused to learn how to ride the bike until he took the training wheels off.
“That’s just the way she is. She doesn’t want any extra help to do what she’s able to do. That’s how she’s dealt with life,” Darin said. “She’s a finisher — stubborn. She started something and she wants to see it through.”