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Friday, September 19, 2014

My Coney Island Cyclone Ride From Hell

Just seconds into my first Coney Island visit in 2002 I realized it was like no place I had ever been.
There was a "shoot the freak" and a grimy, sketchy boardwalk area that didn't feel  safe enough walk along alone after dusk.
The lights of The Wonder Wheel shine brightly after dusk, providing a nice backdrop to the ocean waves crashing ashore on the Pier.
The vibrant red parachute jump known as 'Brooklyns Eiffel Tower" closed in 1968, but still stands tall as a constant reminder of the parks living history.
Coney Island also hosts one of the last remaining real "freak shows" in the country, but it is far most famous for its historic Cyclone wooden roller coaster.

The Cyclone opened in 1927 and cost 25 cents per ride. By the late 1960's it had deteriorated so much that it was shut down.
In 1972 the ride was bought by NYC for one million dollars, but condemned until Astroland had it refurbished for reopening. The ride was declared a city landmark in 1988 and a historic landmark in 1991. Though Astroland has closed, the ride now operates as part of Luna Park and costs $8 per ride.

My first Cyclone ride was during that 2002 visit to the park. I remember that it was much more intense and exhilarating that it looked it would be. That demure looking thing packed more punch than any Six Flags or Disney ride I had ever been on.
It was so rough and bumpy that I thought I was going to fly out of the car and be one of those "girl dies on ride" CNN story's. Though I got a few bumps and bruises, I had a great time. It became a tradition for me to ride once every summer since. 

This summer was no different. We ventured to the park to complete the one last thing on my Brooklyn seasonal checklist. After a fun day on the beach, riding the Wonder Wheel and eating fried clams at Ruby's, we headed over to buy our tickets for the Cyclone. 
After a short wait in line we hopped into the very last car of the ride. 
We slowly made our way up the first lift with anticipation building as the clicking of the wheels got louder. The first drop happened so quickly that even though I knew it was coming I felt like I was hanging on for my life! Though the restraining bar was down, I bounced inches out of the seat. As I was slammed down by gravity, I instantly knew something was very wrong. 
My spine felt like it had crushed in on itself down to my mid back, and my neck snapped back so forcefully that I wasn't strong enough to pull it back against the speed. 
The shooting pain in my back was so intense that I could hardly breathe. The next minute and a half of the ride felt like ten years. Every drop and turn made the pain more severe and I thought I would die before the ride ended. I was in coaster purgatory and as we finally pulled back into the loading area, I could hardly move my shoulders. I had two bruises on both arms from holding on so tightly, and a new cut on my right foot was bleeding. 
Riding in the last car had been so intense that my tightly done up do had come completely down and was missing all of the bobbi pins. The lace on the front of my dress had ripped off the strap from force. I looked like a rape victim hot mess. In the many times I had ridden the Cyclone it had never been that rough or felt so out of control.
I was able to slowly make my way out of the ride and with the help of my boyfriend walk to the nearest bench. I had never felt such intense back and neck pain, and was so scared that something was cracked or broken. After waiting a bit (I always try to tough it out) trying to see if the pain would subside, it hadn't. 
I  really didn't want to go to the Coney Island ER and have to spend all night waiting for X Rays surrounded by crack heads. Luckily we were able to find the park EMT and injury center right away, so that I could get medical attention. 
A fab picture of me on the drop right before my injury. 

The EMT on duty was really great and checked for serious injury and concussion. 
He said that when people come in with injury's from the coaster they were always the same variety that I had. He referred to the Cyclone as she, saying "she's a feisty old lady", which even through all my pain I thought was kind of cute. After a couple of rounds of heat and ice on my back I was able to move slightly better. He also mentioned that the last car of the ride is the most intense one. (Clearly I had noticed). 

I filled out an accident report and the staff went to find the photo of us on the coaster to print (for legal reasons I assume). My boyfriend also had arm bruises and felt really beat up from the ride, more so than on previous visits. 
Though I could only hobble and not turn my head I decided to wait the day until my doctor reopened vs a hospital visit. I rode home on the Q train with a heating back in my back.

The next few days were hell. I couldn't sleep, workout, bend or turn my head without pain. It felt like my spine was out of place. I was living on a heating pad and ibuprofen. 
During my checkup from a back specialist, he first suspected a compression fracture. To my relief, the many X Rays taken were clear. 
He told me that the tingling and pins sensation I kept feeling in addition to pain was the injury healing, which could take up to 6 weeks or more. 

My love for riding roller coasters has now dissolved into a fear of them. I will probably never ride the Cyclone or any other coaster again in my life, and it will take some time for me to want to get back on any ride.
Upon doing research online I found the following information, that made me feel very lucky. 
"On July 31, 2007, a 53-year old man broke several vertebrae, while riding the Cyclone. He died four days later due to complications from surgery."

The other reported deaths had been from people doing stupid things like standing up on the ride. 

During my search I was able to find hundreds of stories from other injured riders with long lasting 

injuries even more severe than mine. 

It is ridiculous that a ride which has hurt so many people is still running. I feel that it should be required that Luna Park put extra warning on the last car of the ride, if it is in fact that much more intense and dangerous.

I spent the next two years of my life trying to recover from the back and neck injuries caused from riding The Cyclone. It's been an endless parade of back doctors, X-rays, pain medication and recovery time. I'm just now able to get back doing things I used to love doing, like running 10k's.  That two minute ride caused me a lifetime of pain.

Some things get better with age, but Coney Islands Cyclone is not one of them.
Maybe it's time to put that "feisty old lady" to rest in the nursing home. 

Photo from a  2006 visit to Coney Island