July 9, 2001
Boy's accident serves as a powerful safety message
by Deborah Stone
Mastering the bunny hop, the one hander, no hander, 360 spin and the super man seat grab occupy much of Robert Culver's day-to-day focus.
The Duvall 15-year-old spends every minute he can on a sport most people have barely heard about, let alone have attempted to do.
Four years ago, Robert discovered BMX jumping from a friend and since then he has made it his passion, devoting countless hours to practicing the stunts mentioned above, as well as numerous others. He rides a 20-inch bike made especially for the sport and has learned to do tricks by watching others and imitating their moves.
"I like to go down to other tracks, especially the one in Redmond, and watch other guys do the tricks," says Robert. "Then I go and try them myself with my friends. It's such a great feeling to do them right and when I'm jumping, I get such an adrenaline rush. The different tricks make it really challenging and I always have something that I'm working on, so it's never boring."
The risks are apparent in such a sport and wearing appropriate protective gear is necessary in the advent of a crash.
Unfortunately, for Robert, this obvious safety precaution took second seat to vanity on one spring day in April of last year.
He and a friend were at Cherry Valley Elementary School videotaping each other doing bunny hops (pulling up the front tire off the ground and then the back one, so that both tires are off the ground) over a three-foot high jump. Because he was being taped, Robert decided to forego wearing his helmet because he wanted to "look good."
What happened next is still a blur to him, but he knows that his back tire missed coming down at the right place by an inch and he flew over the handlebars, landing face down in the gravel.
According to his mother, Debra Culver, Robert was in terrible shape.
She says, "He could easily have been killed. I was in total shock when I saw him because his face was like a hamburger. He fractured the bones in his face and tore the gum off the bone in his mouth. He needed over 60 stitches inside his mouth and he couldn't eat normally for a long time. It was horrible!"
Culver's reaction to her son's accident was to immediately ban him from biking, but after some time she changed her mind and consented to letting him continue the sport.
She realized that he had used poor judgement and that the lesson he learned from his mistake was a powerful one. "I knew he'd never make such a stupid mistake again," explained Culver, "because he had suffered the consequences and paid dearly for his mistake.
"I also realized that BMX jumping is a real passion for him and it is something he is good at. I'm OK with it as long as he wears his helmet. He knows now that it's not cool to not wear a helmet."
Robert was forced to take several months off from pursuing his hobby, but when he returned he decided to put some time into making a dirt track for BMX-jumping down at Taylor Park in Duvall. "There was already the start of one," explains Robert, "but my friend Tom Darby and I wanted to make it really good with lots of jumps. We've probably put over 100 hours into the project so far and we've made some decent jumps, anywhere from two to five-feet high. There are 10 jumps now and we want to eventually add at least 10 more. Our goal is to get the city to approve the track and officially open it to the public so we can ride on it legally. They did that in Carnation and we're hoping that Duvall will do it, too, so we can have a place to ride. It's hard finding good places to ride that are made especially for this sport."
The boys plan to attend an upcoming Duvall City Council meeting to discuss their idea and are currently busy preparing their proposal. As for the infamous videotape, it has been viewed by different audiences numerous times. After his accident and subsequent recovery, Robert brought it to school and showed it to his classmates. The safety message it instills is powerful and Robert is a convincing spokesman to those who participate in risk-taking sports.
On a whim, he decided to send the tape in to "Real TV," a show that uses live action tapes that often have a resulting message. The producers accepted Robert's tape and it will air on July 11.
"It's a good thing," comments Debra, "because I think it shows rather than tells and that's often the best way of getting a message across, especially to kids. Robert is pretty excited about it, but I know that the tape also embarrasses him because it doesn't make him look too smart. But that's the point of it and the tape only serves to remind him even more of the necessity of wearing a helmet. He won't forget that ever again!"