71-year-old Cyclist Won't Let Near-fatal Car Hit Stop Him

"You might have been finishing the shiva (mourning period) for me now," Yigal Tsfati said to his visitors at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.

It was unclear whether the 71-year-old bicyclist was joking. Doctors in the orthopedic unit had just finished attaching a metal device to his skull to keep his head from moving and damaging his spine. Tsfati, of Kibbutz Deganya Bet, was hit by a car a week and a half ago while biking on Route 87, into the Golan Heights. His friend Yiftach Kalai, who passed by shortly after the accident, was told by an eyewitness, "A bicyclist died after a horrendous accident."

That day, after Tsfati learned a whey delivery from the Tel Yosef dairy would be arriving late, he decided "to use the free time to ride a bike," he said. His intended route, from his house to Ramat Magshimim on the Golan, was "ordinary and easy" even for someone his age, he said.

According to Superintendent Eran Kaplan, head of the Galilee police's road accident division, "The driver of a Subaru heading toward Katzrin veered rightward and hit Tsfati, who was riding on the shoulder of the road."

Tzfati incurred heavy damage to his spine, head injuries and a crushed ankle.

"Why do they do this to us? Why do they behave this way?" he asked, referring to Israeli drivers' brutal attitude toward bike riders. This accident was one of many, many of which never appear in the media. Tsfati hopes that publicizing his injuries will help improve the general attitude toward cyclists.

Tsfati has been biking for 22 years.

"One day he went to Tel Aviv and returned to Deganya by bike," his son Oded said. Tsfati drives semi-trailer trucks by profession. He would work as a truck driver in the morning and bike in the afternoon.

"The bike became an integral part of my world. I was riding five to seven hours a day, about 200 kilometers. Suddenly this accident came along and stopped everything cold. From a healthy athlete I've become dependent," Tsfati said. "It's hard for me to understand why there is so much contempt for us - a third-world mentality. I ride in Italy and France; it makes me jealous to see the respect they have for bike riders there."

A constant flow of visitors come to Tsfati's bedside. His family, old paratrooper buddies and local acquaintances try to cheer him up, while he lies on his back, perfectly still. On the walls are photos of Lance Armstrong, his favorite athlete, and a version of Armstrong's motto, "Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever," written by Tsfati's young friend and partner on European rides, Yaniv Laniado.

There's no need to convince Tsfati - whose greatest road loss was 16 years ago, when his wife Margalit was killed by a motorcyclist as she crossed the street at a crosswalk - to fight back. Even after the difficult rehabilitation he's facing, he does not intend to put his bike away.