Track event will raise funds for injured racer

Posted by on July 1st, 2008 at 1:28 pm

Zak Kovalcik competing on
the day of his crash.
Velodrome in May 2007.
(Photo: Ed Norton)

Friends and supporters of local racer Zak Kovalcik are rallying after a crash last week left him with a broken collarbone. Kovalcik is unable to work while his medical bills (from this and a previous racing injury) pile up.

Kovalcik, a member of Team Beer and one of the top track racers in the area, went down hard at the Alpenrose Six Day event on Wednesday. As a full-time bike messenger, the injury has left him unable to work and the company he works for does not provide health insurance.

To make matters worse, Kovalcik was on a comeback (one of his friends said he “was on record form”) from breaking his collarbone during a race last year. That injury required surgery over the winter which he is still paying off.

To help raise money for his medical expenses, Bike Central (a bike shop that specializes in track racing supplies) is holding a special edition of their weekly Fast Twitch Fridays event.

Bike Central employee Jen Featheringill tells me they’ll donate all proceeds from the event “to help Zak get back on his feet.” She says donations will be accepted and that all race registration fees (from an expanded program of events) will be given to Kovalcik.

    Fast Twitch Fridays: Special Zak Kovalcik Benefit Edition
    July 4th, Racing begins at 2pm
    Alpenrose Velodrome (6149 SW Shattuck Rd.)
    More details here

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leonard maltin
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leonard maltin

a set of zipps and a custom frame = cost of 1 year of health insurance.
the track rents bikes for $5.

bahueh
Guest
bahueh

I know some of these guys and the other guys I race with love the sport..and live for it during the summer…
but racing without some form of health insurance is a BAD idea…OBRA encourages all participants to have it…a few choose to take that risk, unfortunately.

wyatt
Guest
wyatt

oh friggin lay off the \”shoulda known better\” crap

Gustavo
Guest
Gustavo

Hard for me to be sympathetic to someone\’s poor decisions. This was not an accident that randomly happened in the street – this is someone willfully putting themselves into a risky situation (competitive sport) without taking precautions and thinking ahead.

Oviously Mr. Kovalcik did not learn from his last accident, which he is still paying off.

tonyt
Guest
tonyt

and he\’d still have a $1,000 deductible . . . at least, AND he\’d still miss work.

All those who did things exactly right when you were younger, please raise your hand.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Guest

Zak is a really great guy who has had some bad luck and needs some help from the community.

he\’s not asking for this himself, people are rallying around him because they appreciate the great attitude, energy, and personality he brings to the community.

Patrick
Guest
Patrick

Exactly why does a bike messenger company NOT provide health insurance? Why aren’t messengers unionized?

wyatt
Guest
wyatt

wow, what a bunch of jerks.

erin g.
Guest
erin g.

Thank you so much for sharing this information, Jonathan! Zak is one of the kindest, most positive people in Portland, so word of his latest injury makes me sad. The great news is that he will fully recover once again, and his best racing is yet to come (which says a lot, as he was doing great this season).

In the meantime, we can all take Zak’s positive attitude as an example, and return a bit of that good energy by showing up to support Friday’s benefit race at the track. It is great of his friends to organize the event; thanks, everyone. I can’t think a more perfect way to spend the 4th of July.

Get well soon, Zak!

Spencer
Guest
Spencer

Pat #7,

Because the cost of it might drive the companies out of business or force the messengers onto foot or into cars so that the insurance companies grant lower premiums.

Tony T. #5

When I was younger, I bought a supplementary \”bang your head\” policy that only covered catastrophic injury only. These are surprisingly cheap for the amount of coverage granted.

Finally, I got into track racing for about 1 month. This was long enough to realize that when I got hurt (not a question of \”if\”) by falling on a concrete track with a group of other riders right on top of me, that there was a good chance for major injury. Although a lot of fun, I decided against the injury I could not afford.

Youth should not absolve one from responsibility.

CM
Guest
CM

When I was a bike messenger, my employer carried accident insurance which covered medical expenses and some lost earnings regardless of whether the injury happened on the job or not. I was out of luck when I got pneumonia, but it saved my butt when I broke my hand.

toddistic
Guest
toddistic

a bunch of you have your priorities out of order if you are gonna be so cold hearted to kick a man when he\’s down.

chelsea
Guest
chelsea

if you cannot afford health insurance, you should probably stay in your house in full body armor at all times. to do anything else would obviously be foolhardy!

we live in a place where it is very hard to get a job with decent insurance and very easy to work your ass off for nothing. can\’t blame anyone for wanting to have a little fun in life.

get well quick zak!

bahueh
Guest
bahueh

wyatt…i said nothing about Zac personally. however racing in a pack situation at HIGH speeds without some sort of medical coverage? have you ever hit the ground at more than 30mph? I have. probably 90% of the time it will require some sort of medical attention…which, unfortunatley, isn\’t free.

OBRA asks that everyone have it…not for their own sake, either…for the sake of the rider and their families…

Zak loves to race…and he\’s good at it and getting better. I\’m not saying people shouldn\’t rally around him to help…not whatsoever. After his immediate needs are met, he should start to consider some sort of catastrophic coverage if he continues to race though..
and short term disability…its cheaper than his current medical bills.

k.
Guest
k.

It doesn\’t have anything to do with being jerks, it is an issue; riding with out coverage that is. That\’s not to say having a fund raiser is not a good idea, I think it\’s a great idea. And I\’m also not going to get into an argument about guaranteed healthcare for everyone, which I think is sorely needed. But…until that happens I think we have at least some responsibility to choose our activities wisely. Bike racing IS a risk sport. Racers flaunt broken collar bones like their going out of style. I know, I\’ve been there. But I also thankfully have good health insurance. If I didn\’t…I wouldn\’t race.

wyatt
Guest
wyatt

the community coming together to help him out sounds like coverage to me.

T Williams
Guest
T Williams

I think these lyrics from the band Pennywise sum it up nicely:

Ever get the feeling you can\’t go on
Just remember whose side it is that you\’re on
You\’ve got friends with you till the end
If you\’re ever in a tough situation
We\’ll be there with no hesitation
Brotherhood\’s our rule we cannot bend

When you\’re feeling too close to the bottom
You know who it is you can count on
Someone will pick you up again
We can conquer anything together
All of us are bonded forever
If I die you die that\’s the way it is\”

To me, this represents the cycling community. We\’re all in this together, and while some may not care to contribute, understand that some day the call may be put out for you.

You\’d want your brotherhood to rise up and help you.

Daryl
Guest
Daryl

Get well soon Zak. And at the risk of piling on here–I do wish people would not kick a guy when he is down. If you don\’t like his so-called \”decision\” to not have health insurance, then don\’t come to the track friday to support him. Simple as that.

As for me–I\’ll be at track, wishing I could give more money than I will be able to. Why? In general, because I want to help a person I know; specifically because Zak is one of the most genuinely decent people I know.

Peace,
Daryl

Rawk Racing
Guest
Rawk Racing

use the event to raise awareness for cheaper forms health insurance. Have a computer set up so people can get started on getting a policy. Make a bell lap be for one month of coverage, not a cash prize. Just checked esurance. 1,500 deductable for about $130 a month… not bad. shoot, you can get a big deductable for like $28 bucks.

lets cut this cat some slack and have the event, but lets not keep having the event over and over…

Can we get Healthnet up in this? huge cycling company after all…

toddistic
Guest
toddistic

how much does a broken collarbone run anyway?

Patrick
Guest
Patrick

Is it common practice for messenger companies not to insure their employees? I am proud that our community has rallied to help Zak but what about all the other messengers at risk? I can’t think of any other worker that works in the road that isn’t covered under health insurance and at least has the option for partially funded disability insurance. It also appears messengers are implicitly encouraged to cut corners, delivering as many packages as possible, putting themselves at higher risk. Assuming that the business is driven by minimizing cost and there are more bikers willing to work than the market can support, this seems like a good issue to organize messingers into a union.

tonyt
Guest
tonyt

Spencer,

\”These are surprisingly cheap for the amount of coverage granted.\”

Yes, and they usually come with a huge deductible.

I\’m not suggesting that there isn\’t a time and a place to suggest that Zak, or others get insurance. (I\’d suggest it too) I\’m just a bit disappointed that right out of the bat, bam! it turned into an opportunity to lecture.

I think that the great crime here is not that Zak rode without insurance, but that we have an economy that is based on excluding a HUGE percentage of our economy from a very fundamental service.

Whether Zak has nice wheels or not does nothing to change the fact that insurance costs too much for many people, and even those who can afford it still get screwed.

It makes me sick to live in the \”leading\” industrial country where people have to have fundraisers to pay for health care http://justicefornone.com/article.php/20080209101810347

And to the smug \”get insurance\” folks, don\’t come to us when your company decides to just change the rules. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/14/us/14drug.html?ref=health

On second thought, you should come to us. We might just help. We\’re nice that way.

john
Guest
john

Yes Zak is a great guy, i will definitely support. IMO, medical is a mess. Anymore, even the \”inexpensive\” High Deductible plans are quite expensive, and then the deductible is so high, your basically on your own.

Crashes in bicycle racing do not normally result in broken bones. And if so, usually no surgery. Usually its just road rash.

Its just money, but we sure are making insurance companies rich. I would rather give cash directly to a doctor to fix me up. aka as free market system.

SkidMark
Guest
SkidMark

For those \”he should have health insurance\” comments:

Maybe a bike messenger should make enough to afford health insurance or maybe the company you work for should have to insure you. Living Wage anyone?

Maybe the US should be like other first world nations and have socialized medicine. We could take the money we use to fight wars and spend it on our hospitals instead.

I know when I belonged to the ABA (American Bicycle Association- BMX Racing) part of the cost of membership went to covering injuries incurred on the track. One of the great things about OBRA is how ridiculously affordable it is, and how many different types of racing you can do with one membership, but I would trade that for not having to worry about going into debt over an injury.

Dave
Guest
Dave

\”we sure are making insurance companies rich\”

Don\’t forget the medical malpractice lawyers.

SkidMark
Guest
SkidMark

And to Zak: heal up fast and stop breaking your collarbones!

doctor on tv
Guest
doctor on tv

China Doll, broken again??? Somebody get that kid a trike…

Curious
Guest
Curious

Is it common practice for messenger companies not to insure their employees?

Not only that, but I\’m of the understanding they have zero paid time off or much in the way of any \”benefits\” at all. Perhaps someone more knowledgable than I can confirm that.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Guest

truth is that messengers have pretty crappy work conditions.

stay tuned for a more in-depth story about this issue…

jorge
Guest
jorge

Zak and the rest of us messengers make chicken feed. We do it because we love bikes and the sport of racing them. Leonard… you seem a little jealous of Zak\’s sweet bike and supportive community of loving friends.

Red Hippie
Guest
Red Hippie

Tonyt,

I sorry your disapointed. Besides whether or not people decide to support Zak financially, the important point of the dialogue is as an object lesson and maybe some education.

Maybe if people read this thread and go \”holy crap, my choices my get me hurt and thousands of dollars in debt, they might think about the alternatives\”. Maybe they find out about catostrophic insurance policies. Sure the deductible is high, but two or three grand in debt is much better than tens of thousands in debt.

If they can\’t afford the $50 a month, then maybe they should not be engaged in a discretionary and risky activity.

The people I feel really sorry for are the folks who get tagged on the way to work riding a Huffy. In most cases, their biking to work is not discretionary and the reason they are on a bike is because they can\’t afford an extra $50/month. We hear about them all the time, but I don\’t see this level of care or concern from the \”community\”.

How about we sponser a lap for them?

Kristin
Guest
Kristin

Remember that the percent of uninsured Americans is at an outstanding rate of 47%. That\’s nearly HALF. This statistic does not differentiate among socioeconomic status, race, gender, education, political stance, or chosen lifestyle. So, why don\’t we lay off our friend Zak and the messenger community as a whole and try to focus on the positive: a community rallying together to help a fellow citizen.

Tom
Guest
Tom

With a \”supportive community\” like this maybe Zak oughta get some enemies!

This is gross.

Get well Zak.

M8Adam
Guest
M8Adam

I wanted to respond to all the queries regarding messengers and benefits. Having worked as a messenger for only 2 years I\’m far from the most qualified person to address this issue, but I think I can do a good enough job.

In my experience with the company I\’ve worked for and hearing from fellow messengers, we\’re *almost* universally denied healthcare (unless we pay for it), as well as workers comp or disability, and get very few other benefits. Some companies offer vacation, and paid holidays, but that\’s about the extent of it.

There are some companies that are worker owned or were started by former messengers, and these seem to do a decent job taking care of their employees. A lot of companies were not started by former messengers however and are pretty exploitative. I knew one company that fired all their messengers because their new insurance co. wouldn\’t cover people on bikes.

And the reason that messengers aren\’t unionized (at least in PDX) is because the industry just isn\’t big enough here, and there\’s a thousand fixie-riding high school kids waiting in the wings to act as scabs in the event of any sort of strike or slowdown.

Dookie Chain
Guest
Dookie Chain

just shows that there is no overall portland bicycle community. this seems like it\’s an issue for the racing community and maybe the messenger community for them to work out themselves. they\’re looking out for their own, but some peeps at bikeportland may not see a track racer as part of their \”own\” so they say, hey, wtf doesn\’t this kid have insurance, especially after being hurt for what looks like three consecutive years. I\’m all for a community to support their own, but son\’t expect a lot of non-racers to care too much.

as an aside, how many members of Team Beer are insured? Gentle Lovers? Team Vanilla/Stumptown? is this a big problem?

also, as an aside, is this a worthwile place to donate for fallen messengers in leu of the track event? i noticed that Zak has used them in the past?:
http://www.bicyclemessenger.org/fund_status.php?all_donations=1

bahueh
Guest
bahueh

Tom…please stop feigning righteous indignation. This is the health care system we live in sadly…it\’s a fact.

Wishing Zak all the best does nothing to change that…nor does it alleviate the inherent risk of traveling around a cement velodrome at 30+mph at 43 degrees…

Maybe what you don\’t realize is that Zak is not the only rider/racer out there without insurance so this will hardly be the last fundraising activity you will see. We all wish him well and a speedy recovery. Some hospitals have reimbursement grants for unexpected trauma or injury (resembling \”victims funds\’)…although he may not qualify under the circumstances..its worth looking into.

elena
Guest
elena

Shortly after Zak broke his collarbone on the track last summer, I broke mine on the track as well.

At the time, I was working full-time as a bike messenger (without the option of paying for health insurance), and part-time elsewhere, paying $200 for the coverage they offered me.

Even WITH health insurance, I am still $9,000 in debt from medical bills. And try paying off that kind of sum when you are physically unable to work and don\’t get sick pay.

I ride bikes because it is what I love to do. And honestly, I would rather break my collarbone again than sit in cubicle for eight hours a day like I did when I couldn\’t ride my bike.

Why are you so eager to criticize someone who needs help? This is sick. Come out, have fun, race, and support an awesome dude with an amazing streak of bad luck. Or don\’t. But this dialogue is disgusting.

bahueh
Guest
bahueh

john..I disagree, racing crashes OFTEN result in broken bones. I saw a woman crack her hip two weeks ago in a crit, watched Zak fall last week, saw an acquaintance break his wrist at a crit three or four weeks ago…all in the month of June…

Jason S.
Guest
Jason S.

The following posters are certified jerk-offs:

Bahueh, Leonard Maltin and Gustavo.

Good luck zak.

Dan
Guest
Dan

Bike Central rawks; love the mechanic there. That is all.

Hazel
Guest
Hazel

As a messenger in Portland for 10 years I can give you call the history I know of these things.
First, Portland messengers have tried to unionize twice. The first time resulted in a court decision that cars drivers would have to be included in the union vote. When we tried to organize a second time, it bacame apparent that we wouldn\’t be able to convince enough car drivers to sign on to have the 51% yes vote. Everyone can thank Transerv for getting the initial court ruling.
Secondly, one company still offers health insurance with a bi-monthly payment made by the messenger. Pronto had health insurance once upon a time when everyone was hired through a temp agency.
It also used to be true that everyone was hired on as an employee which at least got you workman\’s comp. Now, almost everyone is an \”independant contractor\” meaning there\’s no chance of comp let alone health insurance.

bearhat
Guest
bearhat

Zak is a great person and amazing racer. i wish him well in his recovery.

as for the smug comments, life isn\’t insured. everything you do can be seen as a risk including driving your car every dfay or walking down the street.

live your life as you wish and get over yourself.

This blog is unbalanced
Guest
This blog is unbalanced

It always seems to be the \”Portland All-Star Messenger Squad\” cyclists/messengers in this town who get all the love, recognition and sympathy, and all the \’no-name\’ cyclists are asked to have big hearts, to sympathize, to contribute, to be a \’community\’. Where was the community when I went through a windshield, bounced off the dash, popped up over the top of the car, down the back windshield and onto the street? Where were my donations? Where was my love? Where was my support? Nowhere, because I\’m not hip, apparently.

I\’m sure Zak is a great guy, as are most people injured and/or killed every day, but there is no excuse for this behavior. He chose to put himself at risk by track racing without insurance. The craziest part is Zak was already recovering from another injury which he still hasn\’t paid off. I mean, seriously? Nice guy or not, that\’s pretty damn foolish. If I had to open my wallet and heart to every fool on the planet, well… If Zak didn\’t learn his lesson the first time, why should I think he\’ll learn it now? Am I going to be asked to go to sympathy rides every time this happens? I\’ve a pretty full schedule on my plate as it is.

I\’m sorry if this post comes off as negative, but I\’m getting tired of bikeportland.org insinuating the only Portland cyclists worth writing about are the lycra-clad Lance wannabe\’s or the ones who hang out in coffee shops, have the \”hip\” bikes, the messenger bags, spoke cards, the tattoos, and play into every cliche messenger stereotype, or the ones who die (Tracey). If you want to lure more people into cycling then focus on the every day joe. Enough coverage of the same old crowd.

When is the last time you covered a minority who cycles to work? I see lots of Asians, Mexicans and black people on bikes daily but I\’ve never heard any of their stories on here. Maybe one or two are buried back in the archives, but for the most part, every story is accompanied by a picture of cyclists who all look identical to me. Or how about covering someone who rides a 40 dollar Huffy to school? Are they not as crucial to Portland as the hot shots? Poppycock. It\’s like you\’re trying to sculpt the image of cycling in Portland to your own vision rather than just naturally covering the whole thing. This isn\’t an Apple or Ikea commercial.

As for me, I\’m too strapped for cash to donate it to someone who clearly doesn\’t want to learn the lessons from their mistakes. Sorry.

wyatt
Guest
wyatt

@39

I agree completely. You guys are being complete d*cks.

People come to the aid of someone and you lambast the person and the people who would come to their aid?

What the hell is wrong with you????

I\’ll be there this Friday to show my support and donate what I can.

joel
Guest

this whole \”zak was foolish to race again after having already broken his collarbone once\” bs is pissing me off.

zak was \”recovering\” – that includes the full range of recovery, from healing the bone and the initial injury, all the way to getting yourself back into the level of conditioning you were prior to the accident. were not talking \”recovering\” as in \”his collarbone was still healing\” here – he was cleared to ride, and race, by his doc.

are you people advocating that you should give up something you love simply because you were injured once doing it? damn, id hate to have you as parents. that would SUCK. \”GIVE UP\” seems to be the best advice youve got.

and it sure is easy to proclaim that not having insurance is stupid, when youre sitting preaching from the privileged position of having said health insurance. ive worked as a messenger for 14 years, here in portland, and in san francisco, and ive had health insurance for 7 of those years – 2 of which it was half paid by my company, which was a crazy exception to the rule. the other 5 years, ive paid out of my own pocket, from $80-150 a month for bare-bones insurance. im LUCKY that i can afford this.

nevermind that you all are only seemingly concerned that he has insurance while racing – while it seems to be perfectly ok that he has no insurance while working, in traffic, all day, every day. think about that next time you pay $5 to send a package across town. think about an industry that historically has one of the highest workers comp insurance rates in the country (easily averaging around 20% of payroll) – IF the company youre working for doesnt deceptively declare you to be an independent contractor so they dont have to pay up. cliche messenger stereotypes. sheesh. theres a bunch of stereotypes out there, and then theres about 45 working portland messengers. i bet most of you couldnt pick the real ones.

and \”this blog is unbalanced\” – while you raise some valid points about parts of the cycling community being conspicuously absent in coverage, the community as a whole cant be blamed because your friends didnt throw you a benefit, or because word never reached us about your wreck. messengers and racers are tight-knit subsets of the general biking community, who band together and do something when one of their own is down – because (at least in the case of messengers) weve discovered, over the years, that no one gives a rats ass otherwise. squeaky wheel gets the grease. its not about bikeportland only publicizing benefits for us, its about us being the only ones who throw benefits for bikeportland to publicize. so dont go off on me – go off on your own friends, who didnt pony up and organize a benefit. bitter much?

thanks, everyone, for reminding me, once again, why blog comments sections almost never fail to piss me off. real easy to be jackasses behind a nickname and a bunch of text on a screen.

nerf
Guest
nerf

amen joel, amen

joel
Guest

oh, and dookie chain – YES – the bmef, as you linked it, is a great place to donate to aid injured messengers. i will note, however, (cause im sure itll come up) that the fund is specifically for messengers injured AT WORK, and has never paid out for zak or anyone else who was injured off the clock – and as it is, its only ever a $300 one-time payment.

oh and zaks custom bike and flash parts? ever heard of sponsorship? it may not be a full ride, but still… as for seriously competing at the top level on a rental track bike – does the phrase \”bringing a knife to a gun fight\” mean anything to you? or is everyone taking a certain book title too seriously?

gah. must. stop. reading. comments!

as for me, im too strapped for cash to donate, but im going to anyways. guess i dont learn from my mistakes.

erin g.
Guest
erin g.

To all who care about Zak as a friend or fellow cyclist and understand his situation: the negative commentators on here are not worth our time. Let’s take each minute remaining between now and Friday to get every possible friend, bike-friendly business leader, and community supporter there to make the benefit for our deserving friend a big success.

I know how frustrating it is to read some of these comments. There is a small handful of people who enjoy inciting conflict on here, no matter what the topic might be. However, the good people stepping forward to support Zak are the majority. Let’s move forward with our goal of supporting him, which was the point of Jonathan’s positive story to begin with. Some of you have posted some great thoughts and proactive ideas; very nice! I know I’d appreciate help from my friends if I were in such a situation. Perhaps people who have negative things to say about this great effort/race idea would not (or perhaps they have never been in such a situation, and simply don’t understand).

I have never been a messenger, but I made my living as a waitress years ago. I got injured in a bike collision that left me unable to walk or work for days, breaking something in my back. I had no insurance. I know how it feels to have an ambulance arrive, and to lay in the street in the rain, unable to stand, signing a form indicating that I refused ambulance and ER service (I knew that I could not afford the debt, despite how much I needed the care). Hundreds of thousands of people in Oregon alone need health insurance. It is naive to assume that it is within reach and easily accessible for all. It has become a precious commodity that far too few in the U.S. can afford (per the above NY Times link…right on).

Our health system is vastly flawed, so during times like this, the power of good karma and community must get our good friends through tough times. It is the old way of doing things that too often seems forgotten. I’m glad to see it happening here. Great to job to all who stepped forward, shared insights, and voiced support for Zak.

Get ready for some fun on the Fourth of July!!

Grimm
Guest

I was planning on coming out to FTF anyways. Makes it even better it is benefiting Zak.

Its great the community recognizes the need for help and is willing to take the initiative to help an individual. Its too bad some people hold a every-for-themselves and just want to play the blame game.

Boo Boo
Guest
Boo Boo

Okay, I don\’t know Zak, but I\’m appalled by the ignorance of some of the previous posts. Sorry to burst your bubble, but the U.S. for-profit health care system is broken. The U.S. spends more of it\’s GNP (more that 2x in some cases) on health care than most other industrialized nations, like Canada, Switzerland, Taiwan, Japan and England. So we spend so much more on health care that doesn\’t even provide basic care to all Americans. Now that\’s f*&ked up!

Don\’t blame Zak. He is, unfortunately, in a situation like MILLIONS of other Americans who work but still cannot afford health insurance.

I don\’t think I can make to the track, but if there is a formal support fund set up at a local bank or credit union, I\’ll send him some money.

I hope the rest of you ignoramuses read up on health care.