There are conflicting emotions tugging at Bill Nagy as he deals with the physical and mental scars left from a moped accident that occurred more than a month ago.
Part of Nagy, a junior right guard for the University of Wisconsin football team who has been sidelined throughout the first two weeks of preseason camp because of injuries he suffered in the crash, feels unlucky that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The other part of Nagy feels fortunate his injuries weren't more severe. He's out indefinitely with strained ligaments in the heel of his right foot and is wearing a cast to protect his injured right wrist, but those injuries will heal in time and Nagy eventually will begin his pursuit for a starting spot he so cherishes.
"I'm just lucky I didn't hit my head," Nagy said.
Nagy's moped was wrecked in the accident, and he's not sure if he's going to replace it because the ordeal was so traumatic. If he does replace it, he says he will start wearing a helmet to protect himself in the event of future accidents.
Mopeds are a way of life for many busy UW athletes, particularly those on the football team. Nagy estimated 75 to 80 percent of the Badgers have one; teammate Jaevery McFadden, a senior linebacker, believes that percentage might be higher.
"If you don't have a scooter, you've probably got a car," McFadden said. "And if you don't have a scooter or a car, you're probably a freshman who's going to get a scooter."
Yet precious few of those players wear helmets, even though they're strongly encouraged to do so by coaches and campus police.
The reason is fairly obvious, even though junior wide receiver David Gilreath admits it's kind of a lame one.
"It doesn't look cool," he said. "It's like riding a bike down the street with knee pads and elbow pads."
A wake-up call
The Badgers might feel differently if they were in Nagy's shoes.
He was driving home from Camp Randall Stadium after working July 16, heading east on Dayton Street, when he proceeded through a green light at the intersection with Park Street. Out of the corner of his eye, Nagy saw a fast-moving blur to his right. It was a car, heading north on Park, that had run a red light.
Nagy didn't have much time to react, but what he did next likely prevented more serious injuries. He bailed off his moped and ended up sailing over the car - doing a flip in the process - and landing on the right side of his body, some 30 feet from where he started.
Nagy was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Roommate John Moffitt, a junior center for the Badgers, arrived at the accident scene a few minutes later and feared the worst.
"I thought it was very bad," Moffitt said. "I got really freaked out, and then went to the hospital and luckily found out he wasn't as hurt as it looked."
Nagy's accident was a wake-up call for his teammates, some of whom say they will consider wearing a helmet because of it.
"Something like that could happen to any of us," sophomore defensive end J.J. Watt said. "To hear him tell the story was really chilling. A lot of us drive through that intersection just about every single day, and to see what happened to him is something real scary."
Sophomore cornerback Antonio Fenelus already had ordered a helmet before Nagy's accident, in part because of an eye-opening video he watched. To view the video, click here.
The video, produced by the UW Police Department, includes a chilling segment that details what can happen to moped operators who don't wear a helmet. Bill Schrack, a UW student, suffered a serious head injury in July 2007 when he was thrown over the front of his moped after its front wheel nicked the curb while making a wide turn on Langdon Street.
Schrack's head was impaled by a metal stake that was holding together the wooden plank on which he landed. Although he eventually returned to school, Schrack spent months in rehabilitation learning how to speak again and do other simple cognitive tasks. He also suffered memory loss.
Former UW football player Joe Monty could also speak to the value of wearing a helmet. Monty was riding his moped without one in April 2006 when he slammed into the back of a sport-utility vehicle that had stopped abruptly at a traffic light.
Monty suffered facial fractures and cuts that required 100 stitches after flying through the back window of the SUV.
"We see more bicyclists wearing helmets than moped operators, which is disturbing," said Officer Kristin Radtke of the UW Police Department. "Another key thing is eyewear. Goggles are really simple - you can buy a $2 or $3 pair of goggles. With all the dirt, gravel, bugs and rocks, I'm amazed at the number of moped operators that do not wear eyewear."
Moped use is so popular at UW - a study showed it has more mopeds than any other university in the country - that the UW Police Department formed a committee to deal with safety issues.
"It's a behavioral subculture," said Radtke, the co-coordinator of that committee. "Depending on the need and where they need to be and what they're doing, a moped operator will pretend they're either a pedestrian, a bike or a motor vehicle.
hey're operating on sidewalks, going through stop signs, going through red lights, operating two on a moped."
UW women's crew coach Bebe Bryans requires the members of her team to wear helmets to and from practice.
While UW football coach Bret Bielema strongly encourages his players to wear helmets, he doesn't make it mandatory. Bielema addressed the issue of moped safety last week during a break in preseason camp.
"The part that I always stress to our kids is no matter how big, how fast, or how strong you are, or what kind of shape you're in, when you're competing against a moving vehicle - a truck, a car, a van, whatever it is - you're not in the best situation," Bielema said. "They're physically superior than a lot of people that they see and they get this feeling of invincibility. When you're dealing with a moped, it's not real."
Bielema has other concerns besides safety. He tells his players to be smart while driving because they're always in the spotlight.
Former UW player Jonathan Casillas was cited for driving a moped under the influence last August, less than a week before the Badgers opened the season with a victory over Akron. Casillas had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 - almost two times more than the legal limit of 0.08 for Wisconsin drivers - according to the police report.
A few years ago, Bielema noticed two of his players, Jason Chapman and Allen Langford, driving recklessly as they passed in front of him as he was pulling out of a gas station on West Washington Avenue. Bielema followed the players and pulled alongside them at a red light.
The players got the message after seeing the stern look on Bielema's face.
"They're very visible," Bielema said. "That's something to think about."
Nagy hopes for change
Some UW players, like freshman quarterback Curt Phillips and junior left tackle Gabe Carimi, say they wear helmets in the winter, when the combination of cold, ice and snow leads to dangerous driving conditions.
Junior cornerback Niles Brinkley says he wears one year-round, but he's in the minority in that regard.
"I'm just trying to protect myself," Brinkley said. "It's not a fashion statement for me."
Nagy, meanwhile, hopes more of the Badgers start wearing helmets. The soft-spoken junior isn't the type to stand up before his teammates and give speeches, so he has no plans of giving a testimonial on helmet safety.
Nor does Nagy think that approach is necessary.
"I think the accident kind of speaks for itself," he said. "A lot of guys saw the aftermath of the injury and how bad my moped was totaled.
"If they're not wearing a helmet after that, I don't think me trying to convince them is going to do much good."