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Teen talks about helmets

Skateboarder encourages elementary school students to be safe on wheels

Posted: October 10, 2008 9:10 p.m.
Updated: December 12, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Troy Zada, a 19-year-old, UCSB geography major, shows off his old helmet to a group of kids from Newhall Elementary School, Friday afternoon. After suffering serious injuries to his head and brain last year, Zada speaks to kids about the importance of wearing helmets.

Troy Zada always wore a helmet while skateboarding when he was a kid. But when he went off to college, the 2007 Hart High School graduate decided he no longer needed one.

“I thought, I’m going to college now and no one else wears a helmet, so I’m just going to fit in with the crowd,” Zada said.

But a crack in the sidewalk at the University of California at Santa Barbara almost took Zada’s life and changed his attitude about wearing helmets forever. Now he visits elementary schools telling students his story and encouraging them to always wear a helmet.

“I used to say, ‘Oh, it’s not going to happen to me,’ and that’s exactly where these kids are,” said Zada, 19. “I want to show them how dangerous it is not to wear a helmet and at the same time show them why wearing a helmet is cool.”

Zada lifted up his skateboard Friday and told Newhall Elementary School students about the afternoon of Nov. 16, 2007.

The UCSB student had just turned in an important essay that he had worked on all week, and he was looking forward to hanging out with his friends and having fun as he rode his skateboard back to his dorm room.

“But I ended up falling off my skateboard and getting hurt really bad because I wasn’t wearing a helmet,” said Zada, whose skateboard hung up on a small crack in the sidewalk. “I landed on my head, and without a helmet it wasn’t very fun.”

Zada fractured his skull in two places, bruised his brain, suffered brain swelling and required surgery. His parents were told he had a 10 percent chance of survival. But Zada doesn’t remember any of this.

“I don’t remember anything for 36 hours after the accident,” Zada told the students. “How scary would it be to wake up and find out it’s a day and a half later?”

Slides showing Zada’s scar and his skull X-rays brought “oohs” and “aahs” from the young audience, but Zada made sure the kids got the message about safety.

“Just because no one else wears a helmet, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t,” he said. “Now I’m one of the few kids on campus who wears a helmet in Santa Barbara.”

Except for losing his sense of smell, Zada has completely recovered from the accident.

“I can’t smell flowers, I can’t smell food — none of those good things, because I damaged the part of my brain that smells things,” he said. “But you guys don’t know how lucky I am that I’m not paralyzed or something like that.”

After answering some questions from the students, Zada had them all promise they would always wear a helmet.

“I want to do everything in my power to make sure that no kid, and no family, has to go through what I went through,” Zada said. “So promise me that if you’re ever riding on something with wheels, you’ll wear a helmet.”


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