You meet the most interesting people on the path of life, especially if that path is for bicycles.
If you’re lucky, one of those people might just come in handy when you need them.
Such was the case for Jerry Bock, a 77-year-old Albuquerque man who says he bikes every day for “therapeutic purposes.”
John Anczarski Memorial Fund: www.gofundme.com/20xmwo
“The doctor said I should run, walk or ride every day,” he said. “So I ride.”
Bock rides even on the coldest days, in rain or shine, seven to 10 miles, mostly along the paths that parallel the Rio Grande to and from his West Side home.
It was a little after 3:30 p.m. Jan. 25, a perfect Friday for riding, when he headed south on an empty bike path, just south of I-40, wispy clouds overhead, no headwinds below and temperatures hovering in the 50s.
Then everything went black.
“I didn’t know what happened,” he said. “It’s like everything stopped.”
When it started again, he was on the ground, surrounded by paramedics and a fellow cyclist.
The cyclist, he learned later, had found Bock sprawled on the bike path, his helmet crushed where it had struck the pavement. The cyclist had been the one to summon help and then stayed with Bock until paramedics arrived.
“I remember him asking me what happened,” Bock said. “But I didn’t know.”
Bock was too banged up to ask the cyclist’s name or to thank him.
He’d like to do that now.
“I want him to know that what he did, well, that was OK,” he said.
Bock also wants him to know that his tumble off the bike, which broke five ribs and a collarbone, uncovered a very serious health matter. His pacemaker, installed in 2006, wasn’t firing correctly, causing episodes when his pulse raced too quickly and his blood flow was inefficient. One of those episodes had resulted in a lack of blood flow to his brain, hence the blackout.
“I knew my heart was causing problems sometimes, but all I thought I needed to do was sit and wait it out until it was over,” he said. “I didn’t know it could come without warning.”
Bock underwent surgery to fix the problem Feb. 7. He’s still recuperating from the broken bones and has yet to get back to his daily cycling regimen.
But he will.
“I think to myself how differently things might have turned out if I had been driving my car instead of riding my bike,” he said. “And I think about what would have happened had that cyclist not helped me that day.”
Some 43 miles west and nearly three years ago on a different sort of bike path near Laguna Pueblo, help did not arrive in time to save Johnny Anczarski Jr., a University of Colorado student from Ringtown, Pa., who was one of four cyclists riding cross-country in June 2010 to raise money for breast cancer research as part of an initiative called The Pink Pedal.
Just this month, Gilbert Waconda was sentenced to 182 days in jail and 600 hours of community service – in exchange for pleading guilty to negligent homicide in tribal court where the case ended up after the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute. Federal prosecutors cited a faulty investigation by tribal police for not taking up the case, leaving Waconda to be tried on the lesser charge – the strongest allowed under tribal law.
Waconda, 58, muttered a rambling, whiny and unapologetic commentary at his sentencing, then briefly posted an obscenity-laced condemnation on Facebook of his victim’s family, wishing them a life of “pure living hell” because of how awful killing an innocent man had been on him and his family.
Waconda is not one of the interesting people who come in handy on life’s path.
But plenty of people touched by Anczarski’s death are. Those include the many folks who knew him in Pennsylvania and the many who did not in Laguna Pueblo.
Shortly after his death, Laguna teens from the pueblo’s Youth Enrichment Services program were so moved by what had happened to him – and what was not happening for him in the justice system – that they donated their bonuses from the program to raise funds in Anczarski’s name.
Earlier this month, Laguna jewelry artist Shannon Carr-Stevens, whose son was in the youth program, launched an online fund-raiser to help the Anczarski family cover funeral costs, travel and other expenses. It was a chance to show that not everybody in Laguna was as bloodless about Anczarski’s death as Waconda appeared to be.
“We needed the Anczarski family to know that we care about what happened, that we are all not like the man who killed him,” Carr-Stevens said. “The family is in our prayers and thoughts.”
Money has also been raised through numerous fund-raisers held in Pennsylvania, most of those funds having been funneled into a scholarship fund, said Anczarski’s father, John Anczarski Sr.
So far, enough scholarship money has been raised to help about 35 students, he said.
That ought to help those students get a little farther down their path, and, perhaps someday, a little more likely to help others they meet along the way.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal