On September 21, 2015, Cameron Bean was struck and killed by a passing car while running in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. He was 28 years old.
I’d met Cam four years earlier while visiting the ZAP Fitness (now ZAP Endurance) compound for a writing assignment. A dead ringer for Conan O’Brien, Cam was a likeable fellow with an inspiring personal story. An unremarkable 9:01 steeplechaser at little-known Samford University, Cam called ZAP coach Pete Rea soon after graduating and begged him to let him join the team, even though his time did not meet ZAP’s black-and-white qualifying standards. Pete told Cam the same thing he’d told dozens of other runners who’d come to him previously with the same petition.
“If you move here on your own,” he said, “and find your own place to live and a part-time job, I’ll let you train with us.”
Four weeks later, Cam called Pete again.
“I’m in town,” he said. “When’s practice?”
Not only did Cam eventually earn full membership on ZAP, but he became one of the team’s strongest performers, lowering his steeple time to 8:32.57 and qualifying for the final of the men’s steeplechase event at the 2013 USATF Outdoor Championships. In so doing, he became a living example of just how far pure passion can take an athlete—until, all too soon, Cam was no longer living.
The driver who struck him fled the scene but was later apprehended and sentenced to four years in prison. She claimed that the accident was caused by the blinding effect of solar glare, but the authorities dismissed this excuse on the grounds that the sun couldn’t have been in her line of sight at the time the incident occurred. It seems more likely to me that she was distracted somehow.
As you are no doubt aware, distracted driving has become a huge problem. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the phenomenon was responsible for 3,142 deaths in the U.S. in 2019. Many endurance athletes function in a constant state of low-grade fear of meeting a fate similar to Cameron Bean’s when out training on the roads. Yet despite being at greater risk of being the victims of distracted drivers, endurance athletes are just as likely to attend to their phones instead of the road in front of them when they’re behind the wheel.
I’m no exception. On shorter drives, I tend to be pretty good about ignoring my phone, but on long road trips I often slip up. As the hours pass, I can almost feel the notifications piling up, and every so often I can’t resist the temptation to take a peek to see if anything important has come in. It so happens that I am about to set out with my wife on a cross-country road trip. We’ll cover about 3,500 miles over the course of nine days. That’s a lot of time behind the wheel, hence a lot of opportunity to hurt myself, Nataki, or someone else by driving distractedly.
To forestall such a tragedy, I’ve downloaded a smartphone app called This App Saves Lives, which I learned about by its creator, Ryan Frankel, a fellow Haverford College alum who played baseball there but got into running and triathlon afterward. From the press kit Ryan sent me: “This App Saves Lives (“TASL”) is a mobile app-based solution that rewards drivers who abstain from phone-based distracted driving. With TASL, drivers earn rewards points for time spent driving undistracted and these points are redeemable for amazing rewards from our nationwide community of merchant partners. In doing so, TASL gamifies and incentivizes safe driving behavior to replace a dangerous habit with a far more rewarding and addictive one.”
It’s easy to use—so easy, in fact, that “using” isn’t even the right word. That’s kind of the point. Once the app is installed on your phone and you’ve changed your settings to allow TASL to access your whereabouts at all times, it knows when you’re driving and begins monitoring your phone usage (and nonuse) automatically. For every minute you leave the device alone, you gain a point. Each time you slip up, you lose a point. So far, I have a 100% undistracted rating and 281 points. If I’m good, I’ll have more than 3,000 points by the time I reach Rhode Island.
The best part is, these points aren’t just “points.” They are redeemable for purchases from a slew of major retail, restaurant, and service partners including Picky Bars, Urban Outfitters, and Philadelphia Runner. Actually, no—the best part is that you’re helping keep your fellow athletes safe out on the roads, but the rewards program is pretty cool.
I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest you have no good excuse not to download and start using this free app that literally saves lives and rewards you for it . . . and was created by a member of the endurance community and a Haverford College alum. Go, ‘Fords!