The guest speakers at the Academy of Richmond County were a group of female cyclists raising awareness about cycling safety by giving presentations along a route of more than 5,000 miles from Key West, Fla., to San Francisco.
It was a poignant message for the Augusta area, where three people have died in the past year in cycling-related wrecks.
The latest was Gerald Hooker, who was killed Feb. 5 in Aiken County after a tandem bike he and his wife were riding was struck by a vehicle on Banks Mill Road. The South Carolina Highway Patrol said Wednesday that it is still investigating that wreck.
Around 8:30 a.m., five women wearing reflective gear and spandex wheeled their bikes over the Richmond Academy gym’s wood floors and launched into a presentation that started with the health benefits of cycling. Each rider took a turn talking about safety gear, including helmets.
“Your brain is your biggest asset,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller, holding up a silver helmet for about 30 students to see.
Three of the women making the long trip are related: Jane Ward is traveling with her daughters, Jeanie Ward-Waller and Chelsea Ward-Waller. A friend, Stephanie Palmer, is accompanying them. Darlene Cook learned about the trip online and joined them at the Georgia-Florida border, but will return home once they reach Atlanta.
The five women arrived in North Augusta on Tuesday night and had Washington, Ga., as their final destination Wednesday.
They spoke specifically to the bicycle fatalities from this area and used them as a teaching tool about the importance of learning the rules of the road, both as cyclists and young drivers.
“If you hit a cyclist, it can mess up your whole life,” Jeanie Ward-Waller said.
Brett Audrey, the owner of Outspokin’ Bicycles on Walton Way, was one of several local cyclists who escorted the women out of Richmond County. He said the short-term impact of these messages is important, but it is his hope that they’re planting seeds of knowledge for the next generation.
“This is an important message to find safe routes,” he said.