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Friday, August 12, 2022
<p>Bridget Anderson, a 22-year-old UF graduate, stands on the World War I Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, during her bike trip across the country. Another UF alum, 25-year-old Patrick Wanninkhof, died during the trip in a car accident when he and Anderson were hit by a distracted driver.</p>

Bridget Anderson, a 22-year-old UF graduate, stands on the World War I Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, during her bike trip across the country. Another UF alum, 25-year-old Patrick Wanninkhof, died during the trip in a car accident when he and Anderson were hit by a distracted driver.

Admiring a sunrise splashed across the Oklahoma sky is the last thing Bridget Anderson remembers before she nearly died.

Anderson, who graduated from UF in May, was riding across the country on her bike when she and fellow rider and UF alumnus Patrick Wanninkhof were hit by a distracted driver July 30.

"I turned around to tell him something, and I whipped my head back, and I didn’t even realize how beautiful the sunrise was," she said.

Anderson, 22, and Wanninkhof, 25, were riding past miles of plains, deep in conversation about Bike & Build, a nonprofit organization that plans cross-country bike trips during which participants build affordable housing.

Then they were hit.

Sarah Morris, 34, admitted to being distracted by her phone when she veered off the highway and hit them, according to an Oklahoma Highway Patrol report.

Anderson said she remembers waking up on the side of the road, screaming in pain.

She said her only comfort was Kathy Fawcett, a driver who had witnessed the accident, telling her she would be OK.

"I put her phone up to her ear so her mom could talk to her, ‘cause I didn’t know if she was going to make it," Fawcett, 44, said.

As Fawcett stayed with Anderson, her husband, Roger Fawcett, was with Wanninkhof.

"He was breathing," Roger Fawcett, 52, said. "I put my hand on his chest to let him know that I was there. I don’t know if he knew or not."

Wanninkhof was pronounced dead at the scene.

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Anderson was airlifted to Oklahoma University Medical Center, where they found she fractured her spine, damaged the nerves in her left foot and severed her left femoral artery, which supplies blood to the leg, among other injuries.

Anderson said Kathy and Roger Fawcett were her "roadside angels."

"There’s potential that they saved my life," she said.

• • •

Anderson underwent eight surgeries since the accident. The trip was the hardest thing she’s done in her life, she said, but also the best.

"You see beautiful things that you didn’t even know existed in the country, and you meet people from all different communities that are just so excited to meet you," she said.

She and her fellow riders promoted affordable housing as they rode from Maine to California.

Wanninkhof was passionate about alleviating poverty, Anderson said. He taught in the Bronx through Teach for America.

"He could tell the difference between a student who came from a supportive home environment versus a student who didn’t have a very stable home environment or maybe not even have a home to go home to, and he just hated how unfair that was," she said.

Wanninkhof graduated in 2012 with a degree in materials engineering, according to his Bike & Build online profile.

"Bicycling is in my blood," he wrote there.

Anderson said she didn’t know Wanninkhof before the trip, but she remembers him as a leader with a passion for helping others.

She said her favorite memory of him is when he stunned everyone with beatboxing skills at a bar in Springfield, Missouri.

"He was kind of full of surprises like that," she said.

• • •

Lizzy Shebanek, a UF business management graduate student and friend of Anderson’s, contacted her family about starting a donation page.

The GoFundMe page went up Aug. 24 and has raised $13,193 as of press time. The original goal was $5,000.

"I was really overwhelmed," Anderson said. "A lot of happy tears."

Too weak to return to Florida, Anderson will be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital in Oklahoma.

• • •

Her sister, Ariel Anderson, said she is proud of her progress. Bridget Anderson was able to walk with assistance last week for the first time since the accident.

"She’s been positive and strong and resilient throughout the whole thing," said Ariel Anderson, a UF medical student.

Ariel Anderson, 26, is in Santa Barbara, California, today to represent her sister at Bike & Build’s wheel-dipping ceremony, where she said riders dip their back tires in the Atlantic Ocean before the start of a trip and dip their front tires in the Pacific Ocean once the trip ends.

Bridget Anderson said that although doctors told her she’d be able to walk again, she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to bike.

She said she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to be as active as she was before.

"I just have to put my full heart into it, and I’m fully ready to do that," she said.

Contact Alexandra Fernandez at afernandez@alligator.org and follow her on Twitter @alexmfern

Bridget Anderson, a 22-year-old UF graduate, stands on the World War I Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, during her bike trip across the country. Another UF alum, 25-year-old Patrick Wanninkhof, died during the trip in a car accident when he and Anderson were hit by a distracted driver.

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