It was a serious message delivered with a big dose of fun.
Thousands of kids and their parents came to receive free bike helmets at Sunday’s Helmet Head Bike Rodeo in Olathe, but they were also treated to music, food and plenty of child-friendly activities.
The dual nature of the event was summed up perfectly by 8-year-old Kayli Fitzmaurice of Olathe.
“It’s really fun,” she said. “It’s important to have a helmet because it can protect you if you fall.”
The event has grown every year since it started in 2006, and this year about 1,000 helmets were donated to be given out, said Mike Hall of the Olathe Fire Department, one of the event sponsors.
“It’s spring and the bikes are coming out,” Hall said.
Although the typical helmet is only a few ounces of plastic and foam, it can mean the difference between a headache and a life-changing injury.
“Brain injuries can be so devastating,” Hall said.
Besides the fire department, the free event was sponsored by Atmos Energy, Olathe Medical Center, the Pilot Club of Shawnee Mission and Safe Kids Johnson County.
But it wasn’t just a matter of handing out helmets. Volunteers made sure kids got helmets that were properly fitted.
Kayli was excited she got a pink one to match her outfit.
“I just got lucky,” she said.
Participants also got hands-on instruction on the rules of the road and their very own Helmet Head Bike Rodeo child driver’s license.
Technicians from Bike America were also on hand to provide mechanical safety checks and adjustments for those who brought their bikes.
“He got his brakes fixed,” said Erin Williams of Shawnee as she watched her 7-year-old son Dylan Williams test them out on the parking lot riding course. “It’s a neat experience.”
Sarah Wonnell of Olathe brought her three sons to the event, including 15-month-old Gavin, who looked safe and secure wearing his brand-new helmet while riding in a stroller pushed by Mom.
“If we start now, hopefully it will just be a habit when he gets older,” she said.
While Sunday’s Rodeo was geared toward kids, Katie Schatte of Safe Kids Johnson County said organizers hope to expand it next year to include helmets for adults, who she said need to set an example for their children.
“We tell parents that it’s follow the leader,” she said.