PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — News that a car struck former Oregon and NFL quarterback Joey Harrington's bicycle last year while he rode in Southeast Portland generated big headlines.
Harrington, who was wearing a helmet and suffered non-life-threatening injuries, didn't quite understand.
Around the same time, Harrington said he remembered reading that two children who weren't wearing helmets died in similar, separate incidents.
Those events didn't receive the same media attention.
"My accident was the one that was talked about," Harrington said. "The others got a blurb in the newspaper, which is a sad statement."
Harrington, from Portland, led the Ducks to a Fiesta Bowl win after the 2001 season, one of Oregon's greatest. His celebrity can't be avoided.
But Harrington, now a football analyst for Fox Sports, realized he could use his stature for good in the area of creating more awareness surrounding children and bicycle safety.
That's how the first Bridges to Breakers bike ride was born. Through the Harrington Family Foundation, the ride, set for Sept. 23, will raise money to purchase bicycle helmets for distribution to area children through the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and other entities.
The route runs from Sauvie Island to Seaside and includes 60- and 100-mile rides. Cost is $75 a rider.
"The whole idea for the ride came from me being hit last year," Harrington said. "I don't know that I'd be around if it wasn't for my helmet."
The accident occurred July 31, 2011, near Southeast Foster Road and 88th Avenue.
Harrington had biked alone up the Springwater Corridor to Mount Scott and was heading home westbound on Foster Road when a vehicle struck his bike from behind. He was flipped into the air and landed on the hood of the car. Harrington fell onto the pavement when the driver braked. He suffered gashes in his head, a broken clavicle and ribs, and a punctured lung.
Soon after, Harrington announced that his foundation reached an agreement with Nutcase Helmets and he planned to raise money in 2012 to distribute bike helmets to children.
Now that time has come.
Lisa Anguilla, development director for the bike alliance, said the organization strives to both increase bike use and promote safety.
Since the alliance began 21 years ago, the Portland area has seen the number of children who walk or ride bicycles to and from school rise from 8 to 41 percent. The national average, Anguilla said, is 11 percent.
The caveat is that too many youngsters aren't wearing helmets while riding. Not wearing a helmet has been a factor in thousands of deaths of bicycle riders, according to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Of the 10,998 bike rider deaths between 1994 and 2008, 93 percent were not wearing helmets, according to one report.
Further complicating matters is that many children, Anguilla said, don't view wearing a helmet as being "cool."
"It all starts with the kids having the helmet," she said. "But also, they have to know how to wear that helmet and that it's a good thing to use the helmet."
The Bicycle Transportation Alliance offers schools a 10-hour curriculum that teaches bicycle safety. Harrington hopes to provide helmets through Nutcase to distribute to children during such seminars.
Harrington Family Foundation Executive Director Nancy Marshall said they hope to raise about $10,000 this year and then watch that number grow in the coming years.
Harrington, who has spoken at biking alliance events this year, says he plans to become more involved with future events. Having someone of Harrington's star caliber, Anguilla said, is huge in getting children to recognize that safety trumps style.
"One of the things we ask kids is who their favorite baseball, hockey or football players are," Anguilla said. "Then we ask, 'Do they wear helmets?'"
For Harrington, transforming the attention he received for surviving a serious accident into a way to persuade children to ride safely is the best way he can use his celebrity.
"It's one of those things where something negative turned into something positive," he said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press