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Laura Baker: Fundraiser for much-loved bike advocate seriously injured in crash

It's been a very rough week for cycling in Denver, with the tragic death of 23-year-old Gelseigh Karl-Cannon on Tuesday -- the second bike fatality in the city this year.

Denver residents who want to support a good cycling cause will have a chance to do so this weekend at a fundraiser for Laura Baker, a local bike advocate on a slow path to recovery after a very serious crash in August.

Much of the concern around biking in Denver, the topic of our recent feature, "On a Roll," centers on the tensions between bikes and cars, which sometimes result in fatal and devastating consequences.

But even when cyclists do everything right, things can still go very wrong.

This appears to be the case with Baker, a 25-year-old University of Denver student who got into a bad accident on August 26 when she was cycling as part of the Venus de Miles ride in Longmont.

Laura Baker
Laura Baker
Courtesy of Kathleen Burkhardt

Her friend Kathleen Burkhardt, who was cycling behind her on the 55-mile ride, says that they had just gone over several hills and were going down a particularly steep one with limited visibility toward the bottom.

It seems that Baker, who doesn't remember the incident today, didn't realize there was a traffic light at the bottom of the hill until the very last minute and braked short to avoid possibly colliding with traffic.

"She tried to stop suddenly...and she did a complete somersault and hit her head on the pavement," says Burkhardt. According to a tracking device she was wearing, Burkhardt was traveling at 32 miles per hour behind Baker, who was probably going a good deal faster.

Baker was wearing a helmet, but the damage was still very severe.

Burkhardt says that Baker cracked three vertebrae, broke her orbital bone under her eye, and suffered serious brain trauma.

She is still recovering in the hospital today, and medical bills have added up, which is partly why members of several bike organizations are coming together for a fundraiser tomorrow night.

Continue to read more about the fundraiser for Laura Baker.

Baker, who worked as an intern at BikeDenver, the city's main advocacy group, and also did customer service for Denver Bike Sharing, which operates B-cycle, is an avid cyclist and still hopes to get back on her bike. Burkhardt says she is doing better than expected, and thanks to therapy can now walk on her own. But after the accident, she struggled with post-traumatic amnesia and is still having difficulty with short-term memory.

Laura Baker
Laura Baker

Tomorrow's fundraiser, "Laura Baker's Ride to Recovery," takes place at the Studios at Overland Crossing, with suggested donations of $20 ($10 for students). Proceeds will go directly to helping Baker with medical costs. Donations can be made beforehand online. In addition, cash and checks will be accepted at the door.

Friends organizing the event have gotten a lot of donations -- there will be live music, beer from Great Divide Brewing and food from Serendipity and Rocky Mountain Popcorn. Also on tap is a prize drawing, sponsored by Denver Bike Sharing, BikeDenver, The Pioneer, Marriott Hotels of Denver, Badgley and Mischka, Rocky Mountain Popcorn and Elements Massage.

"Honestly, it's been absolutely incredible -- the bike community is just so amazing," says Burkhardt, who also goes to DU. "The work and encouragement...has meant the world to her friends and her family."

Baker, who has an independent design major in the Media, Film and Journalism Studies Department at DU, faces student loans, too, says Burkhardt, and that makes financial support all the more important. All proceeds go directly to Baker, she adds.

Her friends are trying to raise $14,000 this year, and have collected about $9,000 so far.

Baker doesn't remember much about the accident, but Burkhardt does and says it's still tough to think about.

"The scariest thing about it is, she was doing everything right. She was wearing a helmet and still had this traumatic thing happen," says Burkhardt.

She adds of Baker, "She is super-eager to get back on the bike."

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Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.