Motorcycle crash doesn't keep Airman down

by Kelly Deichert
Air University Public Affairs

5/20/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala -- This Airman has a guardian angel, and he's been working hard to keep her safe.
In July, shortly after arriving at Gunter Annex to become the superintendent of the Enlisted Professional Military Education Instructor Course, Master Sgt. Tanya Ericson was in a motorcycle accident in Troy.

"A car pulled right out in front of me," she said. "I was looking at (the driver's) face, and she never turned, never saw me."

When her motorcycle T-boned the car going about 45 miles per hour, all her safety training kicked in.

Sergeant Ericson has been riding motorcycles for 10 years and has logged more than 75,000 miles. She even enjoyed teaching others how to ride as a Motorcycle Safety Foundation coach.

Her training and protective gear saved her life. "I was wearing all the things I was supposed to," she said of the full-face helmet, over-the-ankle boots, full-finger gloves and reflective gear.

When she realized the driver of the car didn't even look to see if the lane was clear, Sergeant Ericson knew the accident was unavoidable. She took her chances and squeezed the brakes.

Because of her training, she maintained control and didn't panic. "I stayed upright the whole time. I didn't skid," she said proudly.

She recalls every moment of the accident, since she stayed conscious the whole time. "I remember thinking, 'This is going to hurt,'" she said.

After flying from the bike, she landed on her back, and her head hit the pavement. She remembers seeing the sky but really wanted to see if her bike was seriously damaged.

Her only injury was a fractured pelvis, and her only scar was from the surgery. She now has a titanium plate about the size of a deck of cards and four titanium screws holding her pelvis together.

"I have no doubt that the hand of God led me through this," Sergeant Ericson said.
She spent three months recovering in a wheelchair, which caused her lower body to atrophy. She needed two months of physical therapy.

Since she couldn't put any weight on her lower half, she focused on what she could do. "I got really good at Rock Band," she said.

She went through physical therapy in October and November. "I had to learn how to stand up again, walk again," she said.

Luckily, her mom lives in Atlanta and was able to visit and help.

Despite only knowing her for a few months, her fellow Airmen showed their support. "The Barnes Center was amazing," she said. "They rallied around me. People were taking care of me who didn't even know me yet. 'Thank you' just isn't enough for all they did."

Though she was released from restrictions in December, she's not back up to 100 percent. She used to compete in triathlons and wants to return to an active lifestyle, but her ability is not back fully.

"It's hard to accept the limitations all because someone didn't look (and caused an accident)," she said.

She credits her fit lifestyle for her quick recovery. She's also grateful she's an active-duty Airman, since she had the support of the Barnes Center and the time off from work to recuperate. Also, Tricare covered all her bills and provided assistance, allowing her to focus on her recovery.

Sergeant Ericson is used to scoring a "good" or "excellent" on her physical training tests and once even earned a perfect score. Now, almost a year after the crash, she's getting close to taking her next PT test. She's been putting it off until she's back to 100 percent. She didn't want to rush her body and risk more injury.

Also, she didn't want to just pass - she aims to excel and exceed everyone's expectations.

She isn't letting this accident prevent her from doing what she loves - riding her motorcycle. Since her Yamaha V Star 1300 was totaled, she bought a Yamaha Roadliner 1900 in November. "It's a big ol' sexy cruiser," she says with pride.

She admitted she was a little apprehensive when she first got on a bike again, but she's glad she's been riding for the past six months.

The accident won't keep Sergeant Ericson from riding, and she will continue to follow her philosophy: "Live every day as though it's your last. One day you'll be right."

Ten things to know about motorcycles

"Look twice and save a life, motorcycles are everywhere," Master Sgt. Tanya Ericson advises drivers. "If cars look out for us, and we do what we're supposed to, crashes will decline."

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation provides 10 things all car and truck drivers should know about motorcycles:

1. There are a lot more cars and trucks than motorcycles on the road, and some drivers don't "recognize" a motorcycle; they ignore it (usually unintentionally). Look for motorcycles, especially when checking traffic at an intersection.

2. Because of their small size, motorcycles may look farther away than they are. It may also be difficult to judge a motorcycles speed. When checking traffic to turn at an intersection or into (or out of) a driveway, remember that motorcycles are closer than they look.

3. Because of its small size, a motorcycle can be easily hidden in a car's blind spots (door/roof pillars) or masked by objects or backgrounds outside a car (bushes, fences, bridges, etc). Take an extra moment to thoroughly check traffic, whether you're changing lanes or turning at intersections.

4. Because of their small size, motorcycles may seem to be moving faster than they really are. Don't assume all motorcyclists are speed demons.

5. Motorcyclists often slow by downshifting or merely rolling off the throttle, thus not activating the brake light. Allow more following distance, about three or four seconds. At intersections, predict a motorcyclist may slow down without visual warning.

6. Turn signals on motorcycles usually are not self-canceling, thus some riders (especially beginners) sometimes forget to turn them off after a turn or lane change. Make sure a motorcycle's signal is for real.

7. Motorcyclists often adjust their position within a lane to be seen more easily and to minimize the effects of road debris, passing vehicles and wind. Understand that motorcyclists adjust their lane position for a purpose, not to be reckless or show off or to allow you to share the lane with them.

8. Maneuverability is one of a motorcycle's better characteristics, especially at slower speeds and with good road conditions, but don't expect motorcyclists to always be able to dodge out of the way.

9. Stopping distance for motorcycles is nearly the same as for cars, but slippery pavement makes stopping quickly difficult. Allow more following distance behind a motorcycle because they can't always stop "on a dime."

10. When motorcycles are in motion, don't think of them as motorcycles; think of them as people.