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Stroke of genius: Stanford head swimming coach mandates bike helmets for team members

Swim team wears bike helmets

Head Coach Greg Meehan and Deputy Allen James of Stanford Public Safety join the women’s swimming team as they picked up their new bike helmets at the Campus Bike Shop and committed to wear a helmet for every ride. A recent bike crash involving a Stanford swimmer inspired the team’s commitment to bike safety.

Deputy Allen James of Stanford’s Department of Public Safety was the first responder to a recent bike crash involving a Stanford swim team member and a vehicle exiting a campus parking garage. The bicyclist was not wearing a bike helmet. Fortunately, she was not injured and something good has come from it.

The Stanford women's swim team is now all wearing bike helmets thanks to head swim coach Greg Meehan’s quick response and with the support of James and Stanford Public Safety.

The student called her coach following the crash, who was on the scene as James commented that he sees far too many bike crashes and far too few bike helmets, especially among undergraduates. He added that he wanted more athletes to wear helmets and serve as role models for other students.

"Count us in," Meehan said.

Within a week, the women’s swim team arrived at the Campus Bike Shop and donned their new bike helmets, which were purchased by Stanford Public Safety and donated to the team. Ally Howe, a freshman and a member of the 2014-15 USA Swimming Junior National Team, is among those who committed to wear a bike helmet whenever she rides.

“Although I owned a helmet prior to Greg’s request, I hadn’t worn it while biking around campus,” Howe said. “I definitely think wearing a helmet is important, especially with the large number of bikers we have on this campus. Why get hurt when you can easily be protected by wearing a helmet?”

As word spread about the swim team’s bike helmet commitment, Connie Huynh, an RA for Branner Hall, said she thinks that if student athletes rallied around the idea of wearing helmets while biking—and actually followed through—the social stigma of helmets would decline and more students would make it a habit.

“There are many talented athletes on campus, and they’re quite noticeable with their red Stanford backpacks,” Huynh said. “If all athletes agree to wear bike helmets, it would make a visible shift when biking around campus and may spark a ripple effect.”

At a recent coaches meeting, Meehan challenged other teams to require helmets, which appears to have sparked interest from the Women’s Lacrosse team. With a second bike crash involving another student athlete soon after the swim team member’s crash, more athletes and coaches may realize the need to wear a helmet while riding at Stanford.

Statistical chart: How Often Do You Wear a Helmet While Biking on Campus? 2014 vs 2012

Ariadne Delon Scott, Stanford’s bicycle program coordinator with Parking & Transportation Services (P&TS), says she would like nothing better than to see all Stanford athletes—and eventually all Stanford bicyclists—wearing a helmet for every ride.
“We are changing the culture one rider at a time and now one team at a time, too,” Scott said. “As with Athletics, ours is a team effort, with a growing number of campus partners working together to increase bike safety at Stanford.”

Scott says she welcomes Stanford coaches as the latest bike safety partners, which include Public Safety, Campus Planning, Risk Management, Residential Education, School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care, Trauma and Community Outreach and Injury Prevention, and the university’s academic programs.

According to data from the P&TS annual Commute Survey, Stanford undergraduates who say they always wear a helmet is now 13 percent, an increase of 18 percent since 2012. Among employees and postdoctoral scholars, data also show an increase in those who say they always or almost always wear a helmet for every ride.

To continue the positive trend, Stanford Pubic Safety and P&TS collaborate on educational bike safety efforts, including a dedicated web page of bike safety resources for new students and a love your brain web page. P&TS co-hosts with Public Safety free bi-monthly bike safety classes, where attendees receive a $10 voucher toward the purchase of a helmet at the Campus Bike Shop.

For more information or comments, contact Stanford’s bicycle program at bike-information@stanford.edu.

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