But rounding a sharp curve, he suddenly encountered an oncoming car "quite a bit over in my side of the lane," said Berk, speaking publicly Thursday for the first time since he suffered a spinal cord injury. Berk is still on leave from his post as chief of the University of Rochester Medical Center.
The car forced him off the pavement, said Berk. "When I got off the road, my bicycle tire blew. As I continued to pedal, I ended up going over the handlebars."
His bicycle helmet protected his head, likely preventing a traumatic brain injury.
The driver of the car immediately came over and — not yet realizing that Berk was unable to move — said, "Did I surprise you?"
Berk's reply: "I think I've broken my neck, so please don't touch me." Berk, who never blacked out, asked the elderly man whether he had a cell phone and asked him to call 911.
"Indeed," said Berk with a wry laugh, "I was surprised by that car."
Berk — usually a fast-talking, brisk-walking executive known for his multi-tasking and impatience — told the story calmly from a motorized wheelchair. He hasn't worn a watch since the accident. He's focused on regaining as much strength and ability as he can.