Nearly one year ago, Christina Genco, a 22 year old cyclist and Newton, Massachusetts native, was killed in Alabama while leading a cross-country fundraising bike ride. As a member of the Bike & Build group, she was raising funds for affordable housing organizations like Habitat For Humanity.
I have written about Christina’s story on this blog. Most of what I wrote related to the bike accident which resulted in her death, and the aftermath. Christina was struck from behind by an SUV while riding with her group, along the side of a road. The driver was charged with a lesser offence than most cyclists would have seen as a fair penalty for killing a cyclist. However, the charge, no matter how small a victory, signified the end of one phase of justice and the beginning of another.
After Christina’s death, her family decided take up where Christina left off. To that end, they started a foundation — the Christina Clarke Genco Foundation — in her memory, with the goal of carrying on her legacy. The foundation’s goals are to promote mentoring for young adults, in particular women, through activities such as athletics and community service. There are three separate funds for (1) affordable housing, (2) safe biking, and (3) women’s lacrosse scholarship.
In passing, I mentioned the people from Alabama who contacted me during the months I tried to find out what had happened to Christina. In Alabama, there was a deafening silence after her death. I could get no information from authorities, but heard a number of accounts from local residents who knew about her accident.
A few interesting facts, which were never presented by the media, came to my attention. For instance, some locals have said that Craig Chandler, the driver of the SUV, claimed to have been looking in the rear view mirror when he drifted onto the shoulder of the road and hit Christina. This is the sort of information which spreads by word of mouth. It can’t easily be verified, but it gives outsiders a clue about what was being discussed locally after the accident.
Other locals suspected a cover-up due to the SUV driver’s connection to law enforcement. On some level, that may have been true. But all the while, I sensed a conflict between certain people in authority, who might have wanted to protect one of their own, and regular citizens who felt compassion for Christina, her family, and her friends.
Despite the frustration of not knowing what was going on, as someone from the Boston area (near Christina’s hometown), I could not help but feel a common bond with the people in Alabama who felt as frustrated, sad, and powerless as we did in Massachusetts.
We all wanted justice for Christina. And, we all had respect and admiration for how had she lived her life — with the best of intentions, with unyielding passion, and with an insatiable desire to help others — and what she stood for.
Not long ago, The First Annual Christina Clarke Genco Foundation Mother’s Day Memorial Ride was held. “Through the support of hundreds of individuals and organizations, the Foundation will donate $10,000 to the cross-country cycling nonprofit Bike & Build, in support of a home built along the South Carolina to Santa Cruz (SC2SC) 2012 route in partnership with Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity.” Overall, the event was a great success.
The Newton Patch posted coverage, including a video, of the event.
One small detail was out of place though. A cyclist and Alabama resident, James Dawson, who lives near the spot where Christina was killed, found himself unable to travel the long distance to Newton, Massachusetts to participate in the Christina Clarke Genco Foundation Mother’s Day Memorial Ride. Instead, he decided, with the approval of Christina’s family, to organize a charity event in Fort Payne, Alabama, near where Christina was killed. The charity bike ride — which is being presented by the Alabama Wheelmen Cycling Club — will “provide an opportunity for cyclists of all ages and abilities to gather together and celebrate Christina’s spirit and passion for the causes for which she gave her life.”
A video about the event can be seen on Huntsville, Alabama’s WHNT Television News site. (I still can’t embed videos on this blog, but this one is worth watching.)
The First Annual Christina Clarke Genco Alabama Ride will start near Fort Payne on June 3, 2012. The only cost to the riders will be $25 in the form of a donation to the Christina Clarke Genco Foundation. The organizers hope that in addition to honoring Christina and raising funds for the Christina Clarke Genco Foundation, this ride will also raise awareness among motorists of the need to pay more attention to driving to help protect the lives of the cycling public. The event is sanctioned by USA Cycling, Inc., and is part of continuing activities by the Alabama Wheelmen to promote safe cycling for both competitive and recreational purposes.
For Dawson, who has been an avid cyclist for almost three decades, the issue of cycling safety is a primary concern. He, like many Alabama cyclists, has seen the same problems with drivers as we see here in Massachusetts. In a recent newsletter, Dawson wrote the following about bicycling safety:
“It is not just an issue that cyclists encounter when reading the newspaper or watching the evening news. As most cyclists already know all too well, riding the roads of Alabama means you will be buzzed (or worse) on a frequent basis. Regardless of whether you’re strictly a recreational cyclist or a serious athlete preparing for competition, cyclists have a common interest in improving safety, and in particular, lowering the rate of traffic accidents caused by reckless motorists.”
While cyclists didn’t need another cycling fatality to remind them of how important cycling safety is, Christina’s untimely death reminded us that the losses we suffer when reckless or inattentive drivers kill cyclists go beyond the loss of an individual life. Sometimes it takes a death to bring people together. Loss makes people think. They reflect, and they envision what might have been.
As the result of a tragic accident, residents and cyclists of two states, Massachusetts and Alabama, were united in mourning a death, celebrating a life, and vowing to do their part to make the world a better place. Each state has planned a bike charity event to support the Christina Clarke Genco Foundation, and each state has promised to work towards making American roads safer for cyclists. With that in mind, we must each find our passion in life and work together towards making a difference in the world.