Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Oskar & Larry Connection

When I read, watch TV, or surf the net I keep an eye out for topics that interest me. Since adding motorcycling back to my list of interested topics, I have found more than a few facts that surprised me; among these are the lives of two unrelated men whom I thought I would have nothing in common with Oskar Schindler and T.E. Lawrence.

Most people are now aware of the story of Oskar Schindler having seen or heard about the movie and book Schindler's List. He was a man who showed great bravery in helping protect a group of condemned Jews during the Holocaust. What I did not know was that two years before he started down the road that would lead to that magnificent show of valor he was racing motorcycles.

In 1928, Oskar was spending his time on the Moto-Guzzi circuit making a very good show of his cycling skills. According to what I could find out, he was near the top of his class and expected to have a long career. However, due to lack of funds he quit racing. When you look at the necessary personality traits that takes to jump on board a motorcycle and ride (like quick thinking, belief in your skills, and a certain amount of bravery) you start to see how this background may have helped him later when he decided in his heart to do the right thing regarding saving the Jews who were working for him.

T.E. Lawrence found his way to motorcycles later in life rather than earlier. You might know T.E. by his Hollywood name of Lawrence of Arabia. He was a simple intelligence officer in the British Army who did extraordinary things to help the Arab nations defeat the Ottoman Empire. A simple case of an average man who when caught in extraordinary times stepped up to meet them.

When he finally returned to England, he continued to look for further adventures by doing things like enlisting in the Air Force as a mechanic. Once he completed that, at the age of 46, he took up motorcycle riding. He had ridden a motorcycle earlier in life and decided to get back into it. While riding he had an accident when he swerved to avoid two young boys who were playing in the road and suffered a fatal head injury. He died six days later. But now, the rest of the story.

One of the doctors who attended him was Dr. Hugh Cairns. He was so distraught over losing Lawrence that he started a long study of head injuries due to motorcycle accidents. This led to the evolution of the first modern crash helmet. Therefore, because he treated Lawrence, Sir Hugh Cairns became unknown lifesaver of many motorcyclists who were saved because they were wearing a helmet.

Oskar Schindler and TE Lawrence were both remarkable people, who showed great bravery, self-reliance, and ingenuity in bringing about changes during their portion of world history. Somehow, while doing that they also found time to enjoy the feel and spirit freeing joy that you find only on two wheels.

Side note: in 2000, Liam Neeson the actor who portrayed Oskar Schindler in the movie Schindler's List was in a horrific Deer versus Motorcycle accident. Steven Spielberg gave the leather jacket he was wearing when the accident occurred to him after filming Schindler's list, and even though medics cut it off him, Neeson kept it due to the special meaning of the jacket. He was wearing a helmet.


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