Chuska Challenge offers fun and safety for all

Josh Carroll proudly displays his reflective Áltsé Baa Ntsíí (Think First) safety decals before his ride (Photo by Mike Carroll).

Josh Carroll proudly displays his reflective Áltsé Baa Ntsíí (Think First) safety decals before his ride (Photo by Mike Carroll).

For the 13th year in a row, bicycle and outdoor enthusiasts of all abilities and every age are being hailed from far and wide to participate in the Chuska Challenge events, Friday through Saturday, Oct. 5-7.The events will commence in Tsaile then taking participants into the Chuska Mountains which decorate the Arizona/New Mexico border.

For the very first year, the event will be augmented by the presence of ThinkFirst Navajo, the safety organization of kind-hearted individuals leading the Helmets Save Riders campaign. This unique program will offer the opportunity to the first 50 interested individuals to purchase six-dollar bicycle safety helmets in the effort to protect their minds and futures.

According to one of the campaign organizers Dr. Robert Cromwell, helmets of all sizes will be available.

"We'll have small, medium and large, because the occasion draws people of all ages," Cromwell explained.

The presence of ThinkFirst Navajo at the Chuska was the brainchild of Cromwell, Chuska Challenge executive director Tom Riggenbach and Dr. Tom Drewhart, the principle surgeon at Tuba City Regional Health Care Center.

The focus of ThinkFirst Navajo is upon four elements based upon the central mission of reducing brain, spinal cord and other injuries on the Navajo Nation through culturally sensitive education, environmental modification, law enforcement and public policy development.

Cromwell explained the four areas of action are broad ranging and include: increasing the use of seatbelts, reducing speed limits and curtailing drinking and driving incidents; advocating against the transportation of individuals in back of pick-up trucks without proper restraining/safety belts; increasing the use of bicycle safety helmets; and educating individuals about the dangers of diving into shallow water.

The Chuska Helmets Save Riders cooperative venture was inspired by the recent passage of a New Mexico safety law mandating that all bicyclists age 16 and younger wear a helmet.

"Injuries associated with not wearing a helmet are a substantial problem," Cromwell said. In order to spread the word of bicycle safety across the border in to Arizona the Helmets Save Riders events were added to the Chuska Challenge.

In addition to the 50 low-cost helmets, reflective safety stickers will also be provided to those in attendance (see photos). According to Cromwell, the simple addition of these stylish and protective decals reduces the likely hood of bicyclists being struck significantly.

"Affixing the reflective stickers to helmets decreases the chance of injury eightfold," Cromwell said.

ThinkFirst Navajo

Also during the Chuska Challenge, Cromwell will present a description of the ThinkFirst Navajo initiatives across the Navajo Nation.

Because in the Navajo Nation the death rate from motor vehicle injuries are so high, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death and the majority of highway crashes are alcohol related, the national injury prevention foundation, ThinkFirst, established a local chapter. The organization partnered with Indian Health Services, the Navajo Health Promotion and Injury Prevention programs, the Department of Public Safety, the Navajo Tribal Police and the Precious Life Foundation.

The educational strategies provided in partnership with the Precious Life Foundation feature Cecelia Fred and Arthur Hardy, both paraplegic individuals, who address school groups. Fred begins with children age 6-8 in a brief presentation including stories motivating the children to include the four areas of safety mentioned previously. These messages are then reinforced by Hardy to students age 9-12, and finally, to teenagers. It is the organizers hope that by reinforcing these safety messages at critical points in youth development, the messages will become realities and save lives.

The Chuska Challenge

The Chuska Challenge Bike Tour will offer riders a variety of mountain bike routes, ranging from beginner to advanced. Test your skills on a "bear chute," ride to the top of the range at Roof Butte and see if you're up to the challenge of a half century in the Chuskas!

Auctions, raffles and door prizes will be featured as well as live music, adventure flicks for kids, fine camping, traditional stories, the annual Chuska slide show, stargazing and arts and crafts.

All routes include some of the finest mountain country and most beautiful fall colors on the Navajo Nation.

The general registration fee is $75 and includes include hearty break stations along the routes, three meals on Saturday, breakfast on Sunday, entertainment and camping at Diné College. School groups and families are encouraged to participate, and special rates are available.

Registration is available at www.active.com. The Chuska is a benefit for Y.E.S. for Diné Bikeyah, which sponsors the Tour de Rez each summer. Y.E.S. is a nonprofit organization, which has provided outdoor adventure programs for Navajo Nation youth since 1994.

The rides begin and end at Diné College in Tsaile, 23 miles east of Canyon de Chelley. For more information contact Tom at 9928) 656-3817 or visit the Chuska Web site at www.navajoyes.org.

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