By Cristabell Ramdial, ’13
As René Garrison watches the car wreckage unfold before her eyes, her heart rate increases. Beads of sweat roll down her forehead as the seconds inch closer and closer to her turn.
Garrison takes a sharp breath as another car is totaled, and just as she’s about to rethink her decision, a dragonfly zooms by. Her anxiety vanishes.
She straps on her helmet and gets into the tiny compact car, decorated with a big shiny tiara on the top, and sets her eyes on the open lot ahead, ready to destroy as many cars as she can.
A professor in St. Bonaventure’s School of Education, Garrison was the only woman in the World’s Largest Demolition Derby at the Erie County Fair on Aug. 19. She always thought the derby was cool, but she said she never thought she would participate. That was until her boyfriend, Joe, bought a $200 car.
“The car didn’t run, but he put it in the back yard, stripped it down, worked on it, we put a nice tiara on the top, and the next thing you know, I’m driving in the derby,” she said.
The derby was split into two categories: large cars, which went first, and the compact cars. Garrison competed in a compact car.
“I remember being so nervous because the large cars went first and seeing the damage that went on made me really scared,” she said.
She thought about asking her boyfriend to complete the race for her, but was inspired when she got a message from her brother.
“I lost my youngest brother, Marc, to a hunting accident about two years ago, and he loved dragon flies. So whenever we see a dragonfly, we think of Marc,” she said. “When I started freaking out, I saw a dragonfly pass, and I knew my baby brother had my back and that I’d be OK.”
Even though Garrison, nor anyone else, was hurt, the derby left her incredibly sore.
“Everything from my neck down to my waist was completely sore, especially my left arm because when I drove with my left hand it took almost all the impact when I hit something,” she said.
Participating in the derby does come with risks, but there is a lot done to ensure that people remain safe.
“You have to take all the seats — except the driver’s — out of the car, all the glass, as well as the airbags must be out, only three gallons of gas can be in the tank, and there has to be a hole in the hood of the car just in case there is a fire,” said Garrison.
Although Garrison didn’t win, she did far better than she expected.
“I made it about halfway through the derby before I got hit in the front of my car and it wouldn’t move,” she said. “I was very proud of how far I got because I was up against people that have been doing the derby for more than 25 years.”
She looks back on the derby now as a wonderful and rewarding experience that she would definitely do again.
“I think the derby is symbolic of a lot of things in life,” said Garrison. “Sometimes you just have to leap.”
About the University: Inspired for more than 150 years by the Catholic Franciscan values of individual dignity, community inclusiveness, and service, St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them.