Starting Over Again

By Nancy Nowick-Kauk
I don't remember Memorial Day 2006, but it's a day I will never forget. My husband John and I were riding in the Cottonwood 200 – an organized bicycle ride from Topeka to Cottonwood Falls and back – over the Memorial Day weekend. On the last day of the ride we were struck by an inattentive driver in a pickup truck going 60 mph.
John sustained a broken hip and broken left arm and wrist that required two surgeries. I was knocked out with a fractured neck vertebrae, multiple breaks in my left arm, broken pelvis, fractured ribs, fractured tibia, a lacerated spleen and severe internal bleeding. I was in a coma for nine days. One of those days was our first wedding anniversary.
We both felt like we were starting our lives over again in 2004 when we met each other and fell in love. Since the accident, we've started over again in a much different way.
I've had extensive rehabilitation in the hospital and as an outpatient for occupational and physical therapy. I relearned how to feed, wash and dress myself. I learned how to do things around the house again. John was doing everything I couldn't do.
I've learned to walk again but sometimes need help walking up or down stairs, especially in unfamiliar surroundings. Reading and writing have been much more difficult. I have a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that has affected my balance, coordination, fine motor skills and eyesight. Everything I do is slower. My TBI also affects my energy level and I fatigue easily. For the past six years I have been in different therapies to get better like neurofeedback, osteopathic manipulation, yoga, ai chi, vision therapy and massage. They have been extremely beneficial.
Every day I wake up and wonder what I will be able to do so I can live my normal life. Before the accident I was a writer and editor. In fact, I had planned to write about our bike ride for KANSAS! magazine, which I had been editing. Because of the damage to my left arm and my eyesight, I don't type well. I use dictation now, but it isn't always accurate. Very frustrating for an editor. My work now is doing everything I can to get better.
This blog is the first thing I have written since the accident. It's difficult to express everything my family and I have been through. It’s hard for me to imagine because I am still piecing together what happened to me. I don't drive anymore and I can't ride a bike.
Bicyclists have the right to ride in a lane, but John and I always rode in the shoulder of the road if we could, trying to be as careful as possible, thinking that motorists would pass us by safely. That didn’t work for us, but if motorists pay attention, maybe it will for the next cyclist.
Nancy Nowick-Kauk is a resident in Topeka


  1. Thanks for sharing your story Nancy. I remember hearing about the crash. I wish you the best and hope you make great strides in your long term recovery effort. It is deeply troubling that there are folks out driving around unaware of their surroundings. At times when I ride a bike on the roadway I find it can be unnerving when cars are approaching from behind and you wonder if they see you. I’m glad to see Kansas has adopted a 3-foot passing law but that means nothing when someone is not paying attention inside their vehicle.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story, Nancy. As a person who has just discovered the joys of bicycling, this was a grim reminder of the need to be extra-cautious when a vechicle is approaching me from behind, even though they are now required by law to give a 3-foot clearance when passing. I wish you the best in your continued recovery!

  3. Anonymous10/04/2012

    This is such a powerful story. Thank you for sharing. Please keep up your good spirits as you work towards recovery.

  4. Judy Hill10/04/2012

    So glad you are back to writing. Think of you and John often especially when I drive Highway 56 to see my daughter. That is the most dangerous road to be on but you and John were still in Morris Co where there is a shoulder on the side. This should never have happened but it was because of an inattentive driver. I worry now when I go out staying off busy roads. How many times have we seen people texting (makes no difference it is illegal) putting make up on eating, talking on their phones, etc it only takes a second to take your eyes off the road and for something to happen. Still want to come for a visit and guess we need to make a time. Cannot believe it has been 6 years!

  5. Kristy Rizek and Andy Phillips (Past VP and President of Kaw Valley Bicycle Club)10/04/2012

    My family and I was on the ride the day that happened. I was very worried and concerned for you and John when I heard what happened. I think about you and your family every year when we ride the Cottonwood. Know you guys are in my thoughts every year when we do the ride. I know you and John had your helmets on and I shudder to think what could have happened if you hadn't.

    Everybody should remember their helmets when they ride. Andy and I lead by example so that our girls will know that we expect them to wear their helmets also.

  6. I am glad to hear you are doing better and hope you keep making progress on your recover. I was one of the many people who helped get the 3-Foot Law passed here in Kansas and I am please we were able to get it done. I agree with previous comments that it mean nothing if drivers are not paying attention.

    But I feel it is just part of the puzzle in making bicycle riding safer here in Kansas. I hope we can get a coalition together and get a "Vulnerable Road User Law" passed here in Kansas.

    Below is an example of what the law would entail.

    Infliction of Serious Injury or Death to Vulnerable Road Users

    Section 1. As used herein, the term “vulnerable road user” includes:
    (a) a pedestrian, including those persons actually engaged in work upon a highway, or in work upon a highway, or in work upon utility facilities along a highway, or engaged in the provision of emergency services within the right-of-way; or
    (b) a person riding an animal; or
    (c) a person lawfully operating any of the following on a public right-of-way, crosswalk, or shoulder of the highway:
    1. A bicycle;
    2. A farm tractor or similar vehicle designed primarily for farm use;
    3. A skateboard;
    4. Roller skates;
    5. In-line skates;
    6. A scooter;
    7. A moped;
    8. Motorcyclists;
    9. Horse-drawn carriage drivers;
    10. a person on an electric personal assistive mobility device; or
    11. a person in a wheelchair.

    Section 2. A person who operates a motor vehicle in a careless or distracted manner and causes serious physical injury or death to a vulnerable road user shall be guilty of infliction of serious physical injury or death to a vulnerable user.

    Section 3. A person issued a citation under this section shall be required to attend a hearing before a court of appropriate jurisdiction.

    Section 4. A person found to have committed an offense under this statute shall be required to
    (a) have his or her driving privileged suspended for a period of no less than 6 months;
    and one or more of the following:
    (b) pay a monetary penalty of not more than two thousand dollars; or
    (c) serve a period of incarceration which may not exceed thirty days; or
    (d) participate in a motor vehicle accident prevention course; or
    (e) perform community service for a number of hours to be determined by the court, which may not exceed two hundred hours.

    Again, my prayer are with you and family on this long struggle you are having to endure.

    Alan Apel
    Topeka, KS

  7. Steve Swartz10/04/2012

    Thanks for having the courage to write about what you've been through the past six years, Nancy. This is a sobering reminder to not only be respectful of bicylists and other motorists, but to give driving our full attention. Former Transportation Secretary Deb Miller used to remind people that driving is the single most dangerous activity the average person will be involved in during a day. We all need to think about that every time we pull out of the driveway.

  8. Nance, I had no idea you were writing this, and I can't tell you how much I admire your courage to do it. I tried to write a longer response, but tears kept welling up, so I will just say I love you, and think about how amazing you are. I almost lost my best friend and sister, that day, and through her miraculous recovery, I found my hero.

  9. Bill Lucero10/06/2012

    Nancy, you and John are part of the reason that the Kaw Valley Bike Club worked so hard (and successfully) to lobby the Legislature to pass the "3 feet" law in 2011. Keep up the long pull at recovery- we wish you the very best.
    Bill Lucero
    Vice President
    Kaw Valey Bike Club
    Topeka KS