Atadero's crusade continues with Recreational Safety Awareness Week

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By AJ Vicens

As more than 650 students filed into the bleachers at Falcon Bluffs Middle School on Sept. 8, teachers and administrators reminded them to keep quiet.

But when one of their physical education teachers started telling the story of how his son Jaryd went missing nearly eight years ago, the room went silent.

"My son was almost 4 years old," Allyn Atadero said, taking a moment to compose himself in front of his students and colleagues. His co-workers and some students wiped away tears as Atadero continued the story.

His son went missing while hiking with friends and family Oct. 2, 1999, in the Poudre Canyon west of Fort Collins. Atadero, his family and police searched for the small boy but never found him.     

Atadero's experience led him to devote a large part of his time to preventing other families from going through the same experience. He wrote "Missing: The Jaryd Atadero Story," released in January, to tell the story and teach families about safety. He has brought state legislators in on the effort, and legislation creating a state-coordinated search and rescue team will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session.

"Two weeks ago I woke up, and my wife asked what was wrong," Atadero said. "I said, ‘I lost Jaryd last night.’ It was just a dream, but the dream is all too real."

The latest manifestation of Atadero's efforts is Recreational Safety Awareness Week, which will be observed from Sept. 8-14 each year, thanks to a proclamation by Gov. Bill Ritter.

The week kicked off with an assembly of the Falcon Bluffs Middle School students and faculty, where Atadero told his story to emphasize that students should be safety-conscious when they're spending time outdoors.

Part of Atadero’s message was about always wearing helmets. Atadero was joined by representatives from Christy Sports, Colorado Ski and Golf, Whistle Away Crime and West Metro Fire Rescue.

"I thought it was informative," said Shawn Damhoff, a 13-year-old eighth-grader. "I bike a lot, and use my helmet most of the time." He said the message from Atadero and others about safety will lead him to use his helmet every time.

"It only takes one time to have something happen," said Austin Steinhoff, 12, a seventh-grader who said he plays a lot of sports and is accustomed to wearing a helmet, but that the assembly reinforced the need for safety.

"You should always wear a helmet, and accidents can happen at any time," said 12-year-old Laney Perry, a seventh-grader. She said that, unlike many of her fellow students who knew Atadero's story, she had just transferred to the school and had no idea.

"That is really sad," Perry said, adding that it reminded her to be more aware when she is having fun.

"This is just terrific," said Jeffco school board of President Scott Benefield. "This is really important."

Benefield said he learned the importance of safety after a childhood friend was killed in a freak accident years ago. He added that even though middle school students are notoriously ambivalent about pleas for safety, the message might have gotten through.

"I think it left a real impression," Benefield said.

Before the assembly, Atadero said the proclamation for Recreational Safety Awareness Week came together quickly with the help of state Rep. Sara Gagliardi, D-Arvada, and state Sen. Paula Sandoval, D-Denver.

"It's nice to know that we can still do things to perpetuate change in this state," Atadero said. "We just want to do everything we can to prevent other families from going through what we've been through."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.