A tale of two wheels

Today marks the one-year anniversary of UVM senior Rose Long’s cycling accident. The hit-and-run collision sent shockwaves through both the campus and Burlington community, not to mention the lives of the entire Long family.Vermont resident and driver, Adam Desjardin, failed to yield to Long as she crossed the street. Long collided with the passenger side of Desjardin’s jeep, which sent her hurdling through the air and onto the road.The facial injuries she sustained amounted to nearly half a million dollars in reconstructive surgery, in addition to a collapsed lung and wrist fractures.Upon seeing the extent of the damage to Long, Desjardin left the scene of the crime, ditching both his car and license plates.He turned himself in two days later due to numerous police tips regarding his identity. On Sept. 11, 2008, Desjardin left his arraignment free on bail.Going into his sentencing on Aug. 28, Desjardin faced anywhere from three to five years in prison. Though he requested two years instead of three, sitting judge Patricia Zimmerman refused his plea and sentenced him to three years in prison.He began serving his sentence immediately.In the aftermath of Long’s accident, there was an outpouring of support and assistance from the UVM community, most notably her fellow cycling team members.The team organized a foundation to solicit donations — which are still being accepted — to help pay her medical costs.— Dan Friedman”She’s a great sport, but she’ll still try to beat you,” UVM senior Chris Hamlin said of friend Rose Long.If you ask any of Long’s friends, they’ll likely respond with something similar; how “she isn’t one to sit back and watch,” or how she is “competitive as all hell,” UVM cycling team president, senior Lee Peters said.While these things could be said of many student athletes, it is the reverence with which her friends speak of her that truly sets Long above the rest. One year ago to date, Long’s life changed in an instant — the instant that she collided with the car of Adam Desjardin.While traveling down Pearl Street, Long prepared to cross through the N. Union Street intersection on her bike when Desjardin failed to yield, resulting in a collision that launched Long through the air and onto the pavement.Instead of stopping to see the outcome of the crash, Desjardin fled the scene.One year later, Desjardin stood in a courtroom waiting for his sentence — a minimum of three-to-five years in prison for the hit-and-run.”I wanted something a lot longer than five years,” Long said. “When you think about three years, that’s 75 percent of your time in college — think about that when considering the gravity of a three-year sentence.””Rose’s accident will always be in the front of people’s minds — her family’s, the team’s, the community’s,” Hamlin said. “People will always be reminded of what happened to her.”What happened to her, the $500,000 of reconstructive facial surgery doesn’t have to be a purely negative reminder.”I know helmets aren’t cool, but you always have to be safe and assume that a car isn’t going to see you,” Long said. “That one assumption ruined my life.”Burlington city leaders began many bike safety initiatives, such as the Safe Streets Collaborative, after incidents such as Long’s, in hopes that providing drivers with incentives for cautious driving will help promote a more conscious driving mentality.”Burlington is full of bad drivers and badly planned intersections,” Long said, but that doesn’t excuse people being unaware of their surroundings.”It’s important for people to take their safety into their own hands,” Hamlin said. “People can still cause harm and it’s really important to be careful biking in a city.””I only hope that it makes people more aware,” Long said. “It’s a futile battle, I know, but it’s actual hell out on a bike — ask any cyclist about the times they’ve almost been hit by a car.”With her determination and outspoken character, Rose will always be an advocate for safety, Peters said.Not even a scar on her face can stop Long from attracting positive attention and she remains the face of UVM cycling.”She loves biking and all things athletic,” Peters said. “Biking is the dominant sport for her and you can really tell that she cares about the whole cycling community.”Since the accident, both Peters and Hamlin noticed an increased number of team members wearing helmets, even for the easy rides, when they weren’t always used before, they said.Within eight months of the accident, Long was back on her bike, competing in national races. While she didn’t place as high as she might have liked, the fact that she was able to get back on her bike at all and compete at that level speaks volumes about her character, Peters said.”I thought about dropping out and not coming back,” Long said “But I didn’t want this to derail my life.” So she returned to UVM, worn out, yet determined.Despite city-wide improvements in bike safety — better paving and improved bike lanes, Hamlin said — Long will never have the life she once enjoyed.”One thing people don’t realize is that nothing can change the way I look now,” Long said. With her interest in human psychology, she constantly notices the second glances thrown her way.”I’m an observant person — I love the way people think and can appreciate when people glance back at me. I don’t like it, but I see, acknowledge and understand that people will still look at me differently.”I don’t look normal and, though everyone is embarrassed about something with themselves, they look the way they were born to look — I don’t,” she said. “Even with the reconstructive surgery, it doesn’t put my face back the way it was supposed to look.””I’m trying to ignore it, but it’s not too successful,” Long said. “Though it helps not to think about it all the time, the fact that I have to constantly carry a hat and wear zinc oxide on my face doesn’t make the day-to-day any easier.”Despite her physical changes, Long still has a unique ability to encourage participation in her teammates, Peters said.”Though her outlook on life has certainly changed,” Hamlin said, “her personality hasn’t. She’s still a happy-go-lucky person who can always get a smile out of people”In addition to her glowing personality, Long’s athletic ability is something that is recognized by friends and teammates alike.”She is back with a vengeance,” Peters said. “Her goal is still to win [every race] and not let something like this set her back.”Even now, Rose’s goal is still to win,” Peters said.