My name is Jano and I am originally from Slovakia. I came to Whistler in 2009 on a one-year work permit, and I immediately fell in love with the local lifestyle. I moved to Canada because of skiing, but 9 years later and I am still here mainly because of mountain biking. In the meantime, I married a Slovak girl and moved to North Vancouver, but I never stopped riding and exploring mountain bike trails in the Sea To Sky region. My young family (wife and 1-year-old daughter) now calls Canada home and life has been really great until recently.
One and half years ago my wife's brother Yuri came to Canada as a temporary worker and him being a bike mechanic and biker his whole life in Slovakia, he got addicted to local trails instantly. We were riding together a lot, and Yuri quickly built up his skills and soon enough he was able to tackle the gnarliest trails on North Shore and in Sea To Sky region.
One evening in late August, I got a phone call from my riding buddy who told me that Yuri had a very nasty crash on steep rock-roll on the new trail we had recently found on Mt. Seymour and they need help to get him out of the mountain. Two hours later Yuri was taken by helicopter to Vancouver General Hospital and underwent emergency surgery. Next morning the doctor informed us that Yuri suffered severe spinal cord injury and will most likely never walk again, but they hope that he will have at least limited functionality in his hands which will allow him to live his life independently to a certain extent.
For the next few days I had a feeling that what is happening around me cannot be real and it is just a bad dream. “How is it possible that my brother-in-law, normally a very active guy is suddenly laying down in the hospital bed all day long, is being fed via tube, a machine is helping him to breathe, and all he can do is just blink with his eyes?” I hoped that I would wake up from this nightmare soon, but eventually I realized that this is not a dream, this is our new reality.
Yuri spent first 10 days in ICU (intensive care unit) and once his vital functions stabilized he was transferred to spinal unit, where he was currently waiting for an open spot in GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre. His condition got much better since his first day in ICU, but this is just the beginning, and there is a long road ahead of him. His current state is that he can breathe on his own, talk, feed himself and he is exercising every day to build strength in his muscles. He can control his biceps, wrist and partly triceps. Unfortunately, he is not able to use his fingers yet, but Yuri is a tough guy with an extremely positive attitude to life so we all believe he will regain functionality at least in his fingers one day.
Immediately after his accident, I kept asking myself “what could have I done better or differently to avoid this situation?”. The simplest answer that came to my mind was “not ride at all”, but that is of course not acceptable for a biker. I realized that I should be asking myself “how should I ride in order to minimize the chances of getting into a similar situation?”. Yuri and I brainstormed about it, and we came up with the following list, which might help you to ride in smarter, safer and more sustainable way without sacrificing joy from riding.Never ride alone
Yuri would most likely have died (frozen to death) on the trail if he was riding alone that day because after his crash he wasn’t able to move at all. It happened in the evening on the remote trail so no one would be able to find him until next day.
Please do your best to ride with at least one, ideally with two buddies. If something goes wrong, one person can stay with the injured rider, and the other one can go get help.Carry essential gear
Even if you are going just for a short ride on your local mountain after work be prepared for the unexpected. Your bike might break, you could get lost while exploring a new area or someone might get hurt. You will be able to deal with an unanticipated event more easily if you pack following items with you: multi-tool, tube patch kit, pump, headlamp, first aid kit, charged cell phone.
Please be wise and do not ride without essential gear.Keep your body ready
Most of us bikers find stretching lame and time-wasting, but as we all know mountain biking is a very demanding sport for our bodies. Regular stretching and exercise (e.g. yoga) will help to prepare your body for a ride, will reduce chances of you getting seriously hurt and will significantly decrease your recovery times if you get hurt. This does not apply only to “more experienced AKA older riders”, it is very beneficial for youngsters as well.
Please invest time in your body and give it some love regularly. It will reward you by allowing you to continue to enjoy riding for many more years and with fewer injuries.Do your warm-up lap
Starting your ride on a gnarly and challenging double black trail is much more fun than an easy peasy ride down the blue trail, but your body needs a bit of time to reach proper operating temperature, which will allow it to function at its best. Warmed up muscles or ligaments absorb impacts much better and is less likely to get damaged or torn during the crash.
Please take it easy on your first run of the day, especially when you are shuttling (not pedaling) to your trail.Follow your gut
“Should I go for it?” you might find yourself asking this question when you are standing at the top of the drop or in front of the gap jump. One day you might feel strong and confident, another day you might feel weaker and not so sure about same drop or jump.
Please don’t go for it if you are not feeling it that day - you can come back and try again another day. Have appropriate insurance
Most of us bikers would choose to spend money on “drivetrain upgrade” or “fork tuning” instead of purchasing proper insurance. This is totally understandable, but it might not be the wisest thing to do. This applies especially for bikers who are riding outside of their motherland.
From my understanding, there are 3 types of insurance at play when biking abroad. The first one is your home country’s medical insurance. It covers you when you get hurt in your homeland or once you are transported back to your home country in the case you get injured out of the country. The second type is travel insurance which covers unexpected critical care abroad and cost of transporting you back home. If you have been living long enough in a foreign country, you might become eligible for insurance offered to local residents. That is the third type of insurance. The catch with this type is that it does not cover your transport home. Additionally, your coverage might get cancelled by issuing country under certain circumstances, and you would have to pay for your stay in the hospital out of your pocket. As an illustration, be aware that one day in Canadian hospital can cost you up to 15,000 CAD, your bill for surgery will be at least 50,000 CAD and price of transportation with a medical team from Canada to Europe is somewhere between 60,000 to 80,000 CAD.
Please be smart and always make sure you are covered by adequate travel insurance when riding abroad. And make sure that it covers high-risk sports like mountain biking.
When I saw Yuri in ICU for the first time, I was convinced that I would not want to ride my bike ever again. Today I feel different, and I know that I will not stop biking because it is a big part of ‘me’ and it gives me too much pleasure. But I will definitely ride differently...
I hope Yuri's story will not discourage you from biking. I hope it will provoke you to think instead and will encourage you to take steps to minimize risks associated with the sport we love to prevent life-changing injuries similar to the one that happened to Yuri.
Most of the people might consider Yuri’s accident devastating for him and his family. I concur that it is life-changing, but definitely not life-ending. I already noticed a few very positive effects it had on us - closest people around Yuri. It made us:
- more grateful for everything we have
- more careful about everything we do
- more caring for people around us
- more united as a family
Have fun out there, but please PLAY SAFE.
If you are interested in how Yuri is doing, you can follow him at on his Facebook page