Wearing protective gear, paying attention in class and knowing his motorcycle are the three things Alex Olson credits for saving his life the day he crashed his 2004 Harley Sportster XL.
The 20-year-old from Alexandria avoided a collision with a car that could well have taken his life, winding up in a hospital bed with a bruised lung, fractured pelvic bone, a few cuts and a little bit of road rash.
On the morning of Tuesday, July 31, Olson was running errands, picking up items for a trip he and his girlfriend were supposed to take to George Crosby Manitou State Park.
He decided to take the long way home on Arrowwood Drive, a road he had ridden his motorcycle on dozens of times. He liked riding on it for its rolling hills and soft curves.
As he approached a sharper curve near Sunny Brook Drive, Olson said he saw a car pulling out and knew if he didn't take evasive actions he would ride head-on into the car.
"I slowed down as much as I could, but it looked like the car was coming right at me," said Olson, who usually assumes people don't see him when he is on his motorcycle. "I thought if I don't lay on the brakes and dump the bike, I was going to hit them head on."
The 2016 Alexandria Area High School graduate remembers jumping off the bike and pushing himself from it to avoid the 600-pound machine landing on him. He came down hard on his left hip, hitting his helmet on the road, and sliding off to the ditch on his right.
A sign on the side of the road kept him from going into the ditch, where his motorcycle ended up. After hitting the pavement and bouncing and sliding for about 50 feet, Olson was told his body basically wrapped itself in a fetal position around the post.
"The last thing I remember is the initial impact. I don't remember much after that," he said.
The crash was right across from the golf course at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center where, lucky for him, golfers were on the Atikwa course and went to Olson's side. His mother said she is forever grateful that one of the golfers was a military flight medic, who later came to the hospital to check on her son.
Thankful he's alive
The next thing Olson remembered was lying in a hospital bed in the Alomere Health emergency room.
As a security guard for the hospital - a job he started nearly a year ago after graduating from the law enforcement program at Alexandria Technical and Community College in May 2018 - Olson knew he was in Room 12B, which is a trauma room.
His parents, Jeremy and Bethany Olson, had already arrived. His dad worked as an Alexandria police officer for 21 years and now works part-time as an police officer in Parkers Prairie, and word spread quickly that an officer's son had been involved in a severe crash. The emergency room quickly filled up with their police force friends.
A nurse came out of the trauma area and told Olson's parents that he was awake, talking, knew who he was and was on his way for more tests.
"When I saw him, the first thing he said to me was, 'I'm sorry I made you worry,' " Bethany Olson said with tears in her eyes. "I was just so thankful he was alive."
She was first informed of the crash when their friend and fellow law enforcement family member, Mike Tvrdik, came out to their home that morning.
"I remember him saying there's been an accident and that it wasn't good," Bethany Olson said. "When Jeremy and I got to the hospital and saw the medical helicopter on stand-by, the reality set in."
Olson's sister, Emily, who lives in Duluth, was called immediately. If need be, a friend who works in law enforcement would drive to Duluth and bring her to the hospital.
When his scans came back, there was no internal bleeding and his fractures were stable so there was no need to be airlifted to another hospital.
Officer Tony Golden of the Alexandria Police Department stayed in Olson's room so that he would always have family by his side, which Bethany said meant a lot to the family and that she appreciated more than Golden probably knew. Olson was discharged from Alomere Health on Aug. 2.
Olson said that some people don't wear helmets because they feel they don't look good or that it makes them less cool. Since he started riding motorcycle three years ago, he has always worn protective gear.
"Look at my helmet. It's pretty awesome," he said, pointing to the scratched-up helmet sitting beside him on his bed. "And I look pretty awesome when I wear it. Kind of badass."
Olson made a deal with his parents when he bought his motorcycle. They would buy his protective gear - consisting of a full-face helmet, leather vest and gloves and motorcycle boots - if he promised to always wear it.
He has kept that promise.
"I have seen pictures of people who wear flip-flops when riding and crash. It's awful and not pretty," he said. "That's why I always wear my boots."
Neither Olson nor his parents understand why people would not wear protective gear when riding a motorcycle. If they crash without it, the results are almost never good, they said.
Because Olson was 17 when he got his motorcycle permit, he was required to take a class through the technical college.
"That class helped to save my life," he said. "I learned so much from it and was taught what to do and what not to do if a crash happened. I used the skills I learned when I crashed my bike."
Olson also said his hands would have been "minced meat" if not for his gloves, and he couldn't stress enough the importance of wearing protective gear.
"I told him I would go out and buy him the exact same gear because I know it saved his life," his mother said.
She also said that it was never a question of if her son would ever crash his motorcycle, but when. That is no reflection on how well he drove.
"I've been told that if you don't ever have a crash, then you'll never have a story to tell," Bethany Olson said, smiling at her son.
After the family knew that he would recover, Bethany Olson told her son she had good news and bad news. Alex wanted to hear the good news right away.
"The good news is your bike is fixable," she told him, then quickly added, "The bad news is, your bike is fixable."