Student shares true story about life-saving helmets

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By Ashley Gebb



12-year-old Levi Baker chats with his little brother Logan Baker, 6, during the bicycle rodeo Tuesday at Citrus School in Chico. Baker was involved in a bicycle accident last summer and has since become an advocate for bike helmets and bicycle safety in general.


CHICO >> If any student needs a reminder on the importance of wearing helmets, Levi Baker is the boy to do it.


The Citrus School alumnus, now a seventh-grader at Chico Junior High, has always loved riding his bike, but wearing the required helmet? Not so much — until it saved his life.


Levi shared his story with Citrus classes Tuesday in hopes of inspiring them to become lifelong helmet wearers. His narrative was shared during bike safety activities dubbed the Levi Baker Day Bike Rodeo, which school officials hope will become an annual program.


As he recalled that fateful day, students craned to see his scars, asked what he remembered of the crash and what might have happened if he didn’t wear a helmet. Brain injury or even worse, he told his wide-eyed audiences.


“I don’t want to make it all about me,” he said. “I want to make it so future generations will wear helmets all their lives.”


Bikes are a major activity at Citrus, with a large number of students who ride to school and a sixth-grade program that revolves around cycling. Because of the large number of sixth-grader two-wheeled field trips, the school established a rule that students seen riding a bike without a helmet at any time — even when not at school — lose their privileges for the next bicycle adventure.


The idea is when riding with a group, the group’s safety depends on being able to trust each rider to make good choices, said teacher Ray Bransky. If a student shows they can’t be depended on to ride with a helmet, they cannot be trusted to make good choices with the group.


One morning last year, a teacher spotted Levi pedaling to campus with his helmet dangling from his handlebars and he consequently missed the next trip. After that, he made sure to always wear his helmet.

“It was still a bit lame, but it was safe,” he said.


A year ago today — two days before his sixth-grade promotion, he was bicycling to return movies on Pillsbury Road when he was hit by a car. He sustained major injuries and at the hospital, doctors told his parents the helmet had likely saved his life.


Levi said he was glad for an opportunity to educate others.


“In school, I’m used to being an outsider. Here, everyone is looking up to me. Kids look at me like I’m their idol,” he said.


Fourth-grader Derrick Rivas admitted with a sheepish grin he doesn’t always wear his helmet. It’s not because he doesn’t like how it looks but he doesn’t like to fuss with the chin straps and feels safe in his neighborhood.


Levi’s story was an important reminder, he said.


“It was very touching,” he said. “And he did a big improvement for our school. I think at least 50 percent of students wear helmets now.”


Fourth-grader Devina Patel always wears her helmet but often sees other students without theirs. As difficult as it can be, especially if they are older than her, she said she will confront them with a helmet reminder.


“I am so scared but I need to say it because I don’t want anybody getting hurt,” she said.


As additional safety lessons Tuesday, students in the Citrus Ambassadors program staffed seven bike rodeo stations, where cycling students practiced hand turn signals, dodged rocks and navigated a slalom course to test their balance. They also practiced quick starts and slamming to a stop, and rode a course designed specifically for scanning their surroundings.


Their entry to the rodeo was an “ABC” check to test their air levels, brakes, and chains and cogs, as well as a helmet inspection make sure it fit and was worn properly.


Branksy wants students to learn cycling is an independent, dependable source of transportation they can enjoy throughout their lives. But they have to know the rules of the road and ride in a manner that helps keep them safe, which is why he said he invited Levi to speak.


“Levi is a true life story,” he said. “He was a kid who learned he needed to wear a helmet and it saved his life.”


The student’s story resonated loudly with his peers


“When my mom tells me to wear a helmet, I’m like, ‘Oh, OK’,” Derrick said. “But when Levi tells his story, it makes me feel like, ‘Wow.’ My brain just opened up to this knowledge and I really want to do it.”


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