Jerry "Bull" Baylor did everything right on the motorcycle that day in 1980.
The Marine Veteran was wearing a helmet and looked both ways before the light turned green. He was only going five miles per hour when he was hit by a car with faulty brakes.
The motorcycle was replaced with a wheelchair, but Baylor-a native of Leechburg, Pa.-has never stopped rolling, whether it's on the road, visiting VA s to inspire other disabled Veterans or encouraging them to participate in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.
It's that never-say-quit attitude that earned Baylor the Spirit of the Games Award, which will be no surprise to those who know him or have seen him in action.
Navy Veteran Tom Strang-a fellow member of the Pennsylvania team-said Baylor pulled him back into the world after his own life-changing experience.
"He's a maniac athlete," Strang said. "When I first got hurt, I was very depressed…. Jerry got me out hunting and told me about fishing."
"Just by being around Jerry and seeing… he's a quad, and he was doing better than me with a wheelchair, so I just had to lose weight to keep up with him," Strang added.
For Baylor, it comes naturally.
"I never stopped," he said. "I got up in the hospital, got in the wheelchair and kept going. Now I make it my mission to get other people to go to the Games. That's all I talk about. That's why they call me ‘Bull.'" He credits the Pittsburgh Steelwheelers-a local wheelchair sports organization-with getting him going in the first days after his accident.
"I was going to local wheelchair competitions before there was a VA Wheelchair Games," said Baylor, who participated in the first Games in Richmond, Va., in 1981. This year, he's competing in track events but had to sit out his usual quad rugby because of a shoulder injury.
"I've already done everything," he said. "The medals aren't what's important to me. What's important is I've talked 40 or 50 guys into joining me at the Games to show them what they can do. When you see their faces out here for the firsttime, man, that's what it's all about."
Baylor admits that his burly build, unruly beard and mess of serpent and skull tattoos up and down his arms and torso might give people the wrong impression.
"I usually do scare people," he said, chuckling, "but just at first. I'm a nice guy. I write poetry, I paint, I go fishing….That's my life." His favorite tattoo? The "USMC" on his arm, which was also his first.
Baylor, who served from 1966 to 1970, believes his Marine mentality was a big help after his injury, and he tries to convey that to others. That mentality is one thing that attracted Alicia Pastva, his girlfriend of 21 years.
"He's just fantastic," she said. "He's so genuine and so giving. I fell in love with him because he has a good heart. He has it in him that he will never quit." Baylor shrugs at the compliment.
"I think certain people are just born with something that allows them to take anything," he said. "I tell people it's just a learning experience, but you can keep going."