This Denver cyclist did everything right, and then he was paralyzed

From Denverite
By Andrew Kenney

Gary Suydam speaks with a reporter at their home. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The police officer’s report lays it out — the mundane mistake of one driver, the apparent cruel impatience of another, all within seconds.

Lisa Suydam waited just before 5 p.m. on a warm winter Friday, wondering where her husband was.

He usually left work just after 4, and the bike ride home from Golden rarely took more than 30 minutes. They were planning to have an early date at a neighborhood brewery — maybe Little Machine or Seedstock.

She knew that something could have gone wrong. She was “used to the accidents,” as she puts it now. Their son and daughter had already been struck by automobiles while cycling. “I’ve just always had a bad feeling that accidents are going to happen.”

And so she reached for phone, and turned on the app that Gary had installed — the one that tracked his rides in realtime for her.

“I pulled out my phone,” she recalls. “It showed him at St. Anthony’s Hospital. And I said, ‘Oh, that’s not good.’”

Her gut was right.
Gary Suydam was the victim of a traffic crash on Jan. 27, 2017.

It was shocking and yet somehow unsurprising in its cruelty. It went unnoticed by the public. No media outlet mentioned the case until ten months later, when the court case concluded and the district attorney sent a press release.

Even in the clinical language of the justice system, the details were gruesome: A driver cut off a cyclist on 26th Avenue, knocking him to the ground. Then a second driver ran him over and fled the scene, leaving him permanently paralyzed.

Up close, the story unfolds into something more: a tragedy, a moment of distraction that changed a man’s life and a blueprint of the danger that bicyclists face — even when they do everything right.

Gary, now 52, really became a cyclist when his son bought him a road-bike frame. Soon, he was riding to the Denver Tech Center for work.

“It was about 16 miles, and you know, the first few times, it hurt,” he says in an interview. But he took most of the journey on the Cherry Creek Trail — a beloved route in Denver where bicyclists don’t have to compete for space with automobiles.

“I just watched the ground disappear under the bike and enjoyed it. Yeah, I didn’t think about work, I didn’t think about other issues — anything, really.” Suydam says. “I just cleared my head.”

By the time he hit his 50s, it was a lifestyle.

He drove his car to work fewer than 10 times in the two years before the crash. Being a computer programmer, he even used an algorithm to plot a route that hit 25 different promotional booths during his commute on Bike to Work Day.

One of his regular routes ran along 26th Avenue, part of a patchwork of bike-friendly roads in the western Denver metro. With only a couple traffic lanes and a lower speed limit, it’s one of a few routes preferred by cyclists.

On a typical day, Gary could do it in less than 30 minutes — almost as fast as a car.

Read the full article here

Gary and Lisa Suydam hold hands as they speak with a reporter at their home in Denver’s Sloan Lake neighborhood, February 21, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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