Reading an article about the increasing number of cyclists killed by motor vehicles, I couldn’t help but remember Ann. To the world, she was simply number 732 of the 850 people killed in 2018 while innocently pedaling down a public road. And when the readers of the article contemplate the number, it doesn’t seem particularly meaningful, especially when compared to the number of soldiers killed in the American Civil War (about 620,000) or the number of people who have died of Covid in this country (pushing a half a million at this writing). But to Ann’s family and friends she was more than a number, and to the woman who was driving the vehicle that struck her, Ann’s death meant the end of the life she had known up to that point.
Ann had worked for the US Forest Service ever since her two kids had reached an age where she didn’t need to be at their disposal 24/7. She worked side by side with the men, building trails, wielding a chain saw to clear downed trees, and carrying materials to remote trail sites that needed reinforcement. She wasn’t a large woman, nor was she loud. She spoke softly and carried a big Pulaski.
The daughter of immigrants, Ann and her older brother Stephen, learned early that hard work was the only way out of poverty. Their dad, a Polish citizen, had escaped from a Russian Gulag during WW2 and fled to England where he met and married the sweet-faced daughter of the family who took him in as a refugee. Before Stephen and Ann could adopt their mother’s English lilt, the family moved to the U.S. Life in this country wasn’t easy for Papa Tadeuz whose English was heavily accented. He worked hard at menial jobs to make a comfortable if modest home for his family.
Stephen, inspired by his mother’s misdiagnosed breast cancer, worked his way through medical school, determined to never be at the mercy of careless doctors again. He was still in residency when brain cancer struck his mother and he was forced to make difficult decisions for her end-of-life health care. Stephen, Ann and their father drew on each other for strength in the aftermath.
Ann married and had two kids, just like her own parents, a boy and then a girl. Grandpa Tadeuz, always the center of the small family, kept Polish traditions alive, making pirogies, telling stories, and making awful jokes. He lived into his 90s and remains a living memory to his now grown grandkids.
The Forest Service moved Ann and her husband to Oregon where they enjoyed the rural environment. Ann could ride her bike to work as the roads were good and the traffic almost nonexistent. But one morning, she didn’t make it to work. The woman driving the SUV that killed her said Ann had veered in front of her. The road was straight, visibility was good. My heart aches for the woman whose life will forever be clouded by the life she took, whether by negligence or worse. Even though she probably will never know how irrevocably the lives of Ann’s family were changed, she knows that cyclist number 732 was more than just a number.