Local Author Profile - Ken Mercurio
Monroe, Ohio, resident, former Californian and biking enthusiast Ken Mercurio had no idea that someday he would write an inspirational book that would give hope to victims of accident and misfortune -- let alone one based on his own experience at the age of 56.
But a snapped bicycle fork changed all that.
Mercurio is the author of “Head over Wheels : A ‘Lucky Stiff’ Turns Tragedy Into a Cycling Triumph,” a compelling and conversational account of the 2007 biking accident that broke his neck and other bones but didn’t destroy his goal of riding in the prestigious and daunting Blue Ridge Parkway Bike Tour (Virginia and North Carolina) nine months later.
Mercurio recounts the fateful accident that occurred during a training ride (the “Simi Ride”) in California. Traveling at 28 mph, his bike “fork” (which he describes in his book as “the front of the frame that attaches to either side of the front wheel axle”) suddenly snapped apart, plunging him onto his head and breaking his neck and six other bones.
He suffered “pulverized neck vertebrae,” prompting his neurosurgeon to claim it was a miracle he didn’t die or become quadriplegic. Five vertebrae were surgically fused to save his life, leaving him with a permanently stiff neck and almost no ability to turn his head.
Throughout his book Mercurio credits medical care, the constant and loving support of family and friends and divine intervention for his recovery. While he didn’t get to ride his bike very far that momentous day, Mercurio writes in his Prologue: “...I think I traveled beyond where I could have ever imagined, straight into the hands of God…”
Other factors played a role in his recovery: Mercurio’s gratitude (for “the positives about my survival, recovery, and my life in general”) and his can-do attitude (“If Greg LeMond could recover from a near-death shotgun accidental shooting to win his second and third Tours de France, surely I could recover and ride the Blue Ridge Parkway”).
In the end, Mercurio’s support systems triumphed. He achieved his goal of participating in the Blue Ridge Parkway Ride, considered one of the country’s most difficult bike tours. In the book he calls it “the symbol of my recovery.”
Retired and recovering, Mercurio wanted to explain to family and friends just how the accident occurred and how he recovered. He didn’t plan to author an inspirational book for the public.
But the more he wrote, “the more I found that I was describing events and thoughts in the form of a book for not only acquaintances, but the general public…Finally, I also realized...that if I actually did complete my goal, my story could be inspirational to others.”
Mercurio considered self-publishing and contacting new, established publishers. Ultimately, “Head Over Wheels…” was published in 2014 by Sunbury Press of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.
The written word has played an important role throughout Mercurio’s life and career.
As the nutritionist and regulatory director for Nestle USA in Glendale, California, his group was responsible for producing the technical part of food labels: nutrition facts, ingredients, net weights and claims such as Lite, Low Fat, No Cholesterol.
Prior to labeling and regulatory, Mercurio was the nutritionist for both Nestle and Carnation Company (Nestle bought Carnation in 1985), providing technical assistance to marketing, communications, public relations, consumer affairs and product development. He also wrote nutrition and regulatory articles that were published in a variety of food-industry and company publications as well as trade magazines.
Writing wasn’t limited to Mercurio’s career, however. He wrote news and feature articles for his local newspaper when he was director of a youth track and field program. He was sports editor of his high school newspaper, then became its editor-in-chief. He wrote articles about his school’s football, basketball and track teams for his local paper.
And don’t forget to add letter-writing to his resume.
As 1969 Senior Class President of Hawthorne High School (near the L.A. Airport), Mercurio will be remembered by classmates for having written the invitation that resulted in the highly improbable : the Beach Boys entertaining at their senior prom.
He recalls that :
“....our prom was ‘suffering’ a backlash from classmates who objected to our having, for the first time, a dinner dance instead of just a dance. There were calls to boycott it. Yikes! It was too late to back out of our contract with the Beverly Hilton Hotel. What were we going to do?....
“....Someone made a joke about getting the Beach Boys, who had gone to HHS…. I decided, What the heck? Nothing to lose by asking. I told my family what I was going to do, and my mom (without my asking) handed me an outline of how she thought I should ask, such as ‘We could never afford to pay the Boys, but thought they might want to do it for the publicity, and they might get a real kick out of returning to their alma mater.’
“I obtained the name and mailing address of their manager, to whom the letter was addressed, from my Beach Boys link: my best friend's brother was best friends with a guy whose brother was friends with Al Jardine. I do not have a copy of the letter...
“I think I mainly talked about how much the Boys were admired by HHS students, and we always told people we attend the school of the Beach Boys, blah blah, blah...
“What a pleasant shock to get a phone call from the (Beach Boys’) manager saying YES!” Mercurio continues. Luckily, the call came while Mercurio, as student editor-in-chief, was editing the latest newspaper just prior to publication.
“I persuaded the print shop guy to let me write a new banner headline and front-page article to replace what he had already typeset. He was pretty excited by the news, too, so he agreed, and right there on the spot, I completely re-did the front page of the newspaper. When the paper came out the next day, it was truly ‘breaking news’ to the entire school…”
The prom sold out.
On the big night a different band played prior to the Beach Boys. Then it was showtime.
“We all loved their performance,” Mercurio fondly recalls of the future rock icons whose distinctive harmonies and lyrics celebrate West Coast fun, sun, surf and romance.
“It was not any different from any Beach Boys concert,” he recollects, “except that after about five or six songs, Dennis, Carl, and Al (Brian did not perform in concert any longer, so he was not there) started shouting out, asking about teachers they had had, and saying how Mr. So and So told me I was a loser and would never amount to anything. We all laughed at those little outbursts.
“There was very little dancing by us during the concert; we all stood facing the stage….When the Boys were done, the prom was over and we all went home. Quite a memory!”
There is a footnote to the story, however:
Mercurio recalls : “What's funny is, I later heard via my Beach Boys link that all my BS had no effect on the decision to accept my invitation; rather, it had all to do with the manager ‘forcing’ the Boys to do it because their popularity happened to be at a low point and they needed the publicity. The word was the Boys did not want to do it but were forced to do it…
“I'm glad I learned this only many months after the prom, not before it!