Survivors of Kalamazoo bike crash recount past year

Survivors of KZOO Bike Crash will ride in memorial

KALAMAZOO, MICH. - Paul Runnels has been an athlete for as long as he can remember

"I was mostly a runner, I got started biking a lot again probably 10 years ago, nine or 10 years ago," Runnels said.

His coworkers convinced him to join the Chain Gang, founded by Mark Rose in 1999.

"We were all very novice at the time when he started that group and we started the first year with about 10 people," Rose said.

Fitness instructor and athlete Sheila Jeske also is a Chain Gang rider. Both Jeske and Runnels joined seven other riders on a 28-mile ride June 7, 2016.

"It was kind of overcast, kind of cool, mid 60s," Runnels said. "I remember I was wearing some arm warmers because it was so cool."

They were about five or six miles into the ride, heading north on Westnedge Avenue.

"I remember, coming by these signs that are behind us I remember seeing them on both sides of the road," Runnels said.

A pick up truck came roaring up behind them.

"I don't remember falling off my bike, I don't remember talking to first responders," Runnels said.

More: Permanent memorial planned to honor Kalamazoo cyclists

Jeske's memory isn't as clear.

"I don't remember what happened I don't remember being hit here, I don't remember even leaving the parking lot when we started the ride," Jeske said. "My guess is the truck struck me on the right side, my right hip dislocated forward, my right ankle was broken, my left ankle was a compound fracture -- I had two surgeries on that."

Runnels was also severely injured.

"I had some internal injuries, I had a collapsed lung, I had a fracture of my L1 vertebrae, I had a fracture of my scapula in the back," Runnels said.

The pair, along with Jennifer Johnson and Paul Gobble survived, while five fellow riders were killed.

"What's been impressive for me is to see the four survivors who will all be leading our ride, which is just miraculous in and of itself that they can be here and do that," Rose said.

Rose will join the four survivors in the memorial ride.

"I'll ride to remember those that we lost and to ride around those to support those that are with us," Rose said. "I think of my friends every time I get on my bike, so whether it's here, I don't think it brings any more emotion, a little bit more I suppose being at this site, but I think of them every time I get on a bike."

"I lay in bed and if I see a bright star I'm like okay they got my back, things like that. I don't think of the tragedy, I don't remember it," Jeske said.

Runnels believes luck was on his side that night.

"I have a lot of grief about the people that we did lose ... I just feel like i was one of the lucky ones, in spite of the injuries, I did survive to ride another day," Runnels said.

The four survivors along with Rose will take part in Wednesday's "Finish The Ride" memorial ride.

"We all have a sense of obligation to be here for the ride tomorrow, to honor both the cycling community as well as our cycling friends that were killed and I think we'll have a sense of honor to even be here," Runnels said.

Both Runnels and Jeske had to do extensive physical therapy and will continue to do so. There are two rides this evening, the first is a 28-mile ride, the second and is a 12-and-a-half mile route.

Both will be surrounded by police escorts and road closures. Rose expects several hundred people to attend.

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