Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Special Guest Post | Monique Koll

I'm really excited for today's blog post, as I wrap up National Bike Month. I've gotten to know biking and triathlon enthusiast and veterinarian Monique Koll over the past year, and I reached out to her to write a guest post, which she gracefully accepted.

In October 2012, Monique and a friend were riding their bicycles in Scott, Louisiana, when she was hit from behind by an unlicensed driver. After recovering in the hospital, walking again when doctors said she may never be able to, Monique became a bicycle safety advocate. She was the first executive director for the organization BikeLafayette; held a position on the Lafayette Consolidated Government Bicycle Subcommittee and Disability Awareness Committee; incorporated and became the first president of the statewide Bike Walk Louisiana; and self-published a book last year, titled Determinational - in addition to returning to practicing veterinary medicine! I learned a lot of her first-person narrative while I helped her edit her book, and her determination (for lack of a better word!) and feist stuck with me. She has been dealt tough cards in her life, but won't let it slow her down.

As a follow-up to my blog posts this month on bicycle laws, safety and routes, I hope this personal perspective serves as a reminder for bicyclists and drivers to all share the road. Look out for each other!

Photo by Brad Bowie, courtesy of Monique Koll

Photo courtesy of Monique Koll


Racing is something I still dream about, almost every week. "Crotalus," a Fuji Acer named after the rattlesnake genus because they never tire, was my love and my addiction. I would play hooky to go on 50-mile bicycle rides, just me and my bike and the wind, chasing shadows through the long, windy roads between sugarcane fields in south Louisiana. I had just started the sport of triathlon and I had a lot to learn, that was my excuse.

Being partially paralyzed doesn't really suit anyone, and definitely not me. The bad stuff that happens in life is always mindless, and being hit by an unlicensed/uninsured driver, breaking my neck...well I prayed for death. I am an accomplisher. A veterinarian, mother, pianist, mountain climber. People now sometimes say I'm an inspiration, someone to look up to. They are so sweet! 

Two months in the hospital, close to a year more in a wheelchair, may never be able to walk again...that was not my reality. The truth is, any of us in that position would work as hard as I did to recover everything that was lost. I now never believe in a reality that I don't like. I learned my lesson trying to fit into limitations set forth by others.

I can't ride again, not really, not yet. But that doesn't keep me away. I referee triathlons now.

Also, in the time I couldn't walk and could barely use my hands, I became heavily involved in bicycle advocacy on the local level in Acadiana. As I learned more and more, it wasn't just safe bicycle paths that were deficient in Lafayette, but all forms of "active transportation." Active transportation includes cycling, walking, pushing a stroller, using a wheelchair, horses, skateboarding...everything but individual motorized vehicles.

Cities become grey and lifeless without these methods of transportation, and Lafayette was headed in that direction fast. Yes, Lafayette, the colorful Cajun heartbeat in Acadiana! Scary. Luckily, city planners on the national level recognize this, and have found ways to make cities beautiful and livable, instead of just car-worshipping concrete jungles. The Lafayette city planners are on board, so, safe!

I took it upon myself to educate our community in beautiful cities, and how to keep our heritage by being open to all modes of transportation. I had a volunteer office with the city planners, sat on the Bicycle Subcommittee and Disability Awareness Committee in the Lafayette Consolidated Government, was the first executive director of BikeLafayette, and incorporated and became the first president of the statewide Bike Walk Louisiana, to help promote policy-making for active transportation. This is not anti-car, just pro-happy living.

I still plan on riding again; I think about it every day. I sometimes wake up sobbing because I swore I was finally able to... But the choice is to keep going and do good, or feel miserable for life. And that's just not in my cards.

Photo by Travis Gauthier/Zoom Photo Studio, courtesy of Monique Koll


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