Tragedy on the Trail: Cyclist dies after accident on Fat Tire course
EUREKA SPRINGS -- The annual Fat Tire Festival mountain bike race was marred by tragedy Saturday when a 39-year-old Little Rock woman died from injuries she apparently suffered in an accident on the course.
Laura Wooldridge was taken by helicopter to Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville after the accident, which occurred around 9:30 a.m. Saturday. Wooldridge died at the hospital, although no further details about an exact cause of death were available.
"All we basically know is a bystander states she came walking out of the woods with her bicycle," said Assistant Chief Tom Dransfield of the Eureka Springs Fire Department.
Dransfield said that Wooldridge was bleeding heavily and had suffered facial trauma and chest trauma after the accident about 30 minutes before the race's scheduled 10 a.m. start.
According to Dransfield, the helicopter transporting Wooldridge from the race course originally was bound for a hospital in Springfield, Mo., but was rerouted to Fayetteville -- apparently because Wooldridge's condition was deteriorating.
David Renko, director of the Fat Tire Festival, said race officials were saddened by the tragedy.
"The Fat Tire Festival and Progressive Trail Design deeply regret the loss of Laura Wooldridge, and any loss of life associated with mountain biking," Renko said.
"The risks of mountain biking are inherent," he said. "I think everyone understands that. The risks of living in this area are inherent."
Renko noted that a medical helicopter landed three time in Eureka Springs over the weekend -- twice in connection with the Fat Tire Festival and once in connection with an unrelated traffic accident.
"By the third time, you can imagine the impact that had on everyone's psyche," he said.
Renko said he had no details about the other serious injury that occurred during the race, other than the fact that the victim was hospitalized in stable condition with injuries that were not life-threatening.
"It's unfortunate that so much happened on one weekend, but it clearly illustrates that we are all vulnerable," he said.
Renko said Wooldridge was "well-loved" among her fellow riders.
"She was an advanced cyclist, someone who obviously loved what she was doing and had a great passion for it," he said. "She died doing something she loved."
Wooldridge was a member of the Central Arkansas Velo (CARVE) racing team.
CARVE team captain Scott Penrod said he and other team members rushed to the hospital in Fayetteville after Wooldridge's accident but were met by the hospital chaplain who informed them of Wooldridge's death.
Phillip Prater, a member of the CARVE team, said Wooldridge joined the group about three and a half years ago.
"She was kind of an ambassador for mountain biking." Prater said. "She put on a lot of mountain biking clinics for women around the state. ... She pushed other women to get out of their comfort zones and become better cyclists."
Prater said Wooldridge always had "a huge smile on her face," but also was serious about improving as a cyclist.
"She pushed herself," he said. "She wanted women to work harder and do more than people thought they could, and she wanted the same thing for herself."
Prater said Wooldridge is survived by a husband and two sons.
"Laura was known to cyclists by her infectious smile and was an advocate for women cyclists in the area," Wooldridge's husband John, told Fox 16 television in Little Rock that.
On Sunday, CARVE team members and other riders honored Wooldridge by donning pink T-shirts and riding the course together, foregoing the competitive race.
Phillip Prater, a member of the CARVE team, said the team came up with the idea to honor Wooldridge on Saturday night.
"We were still just completely in shock and had no idea really what to do," he said. "We knew that Laura would want us to ride, so we decided to ride together all the way to the finish line."
Prater said around 40 riders, including some who were not affiliated with CARVE joined in the memorial ride. He said a separate memorial ride was held in Little Rock, with Wooldridge's husband participating.
For the CARVE team members, honoring Wooldridge was cathartic.
"There was a lot of emotion during the ride," Prater said.
One female rider suffered a minor accident early in the ride, Prater said.
"She picked up her bicycle and chucked it in the woods," he said. "Then she just sat down and started crying."