August 2014: Parent Corner
Two years I had something phenomenal happen to me…I had reason to remove my bike from the rafters of our garage where it had hung for at least five years without any activity. I became a bike rider again. Why that happened is an even better story…My thirteen year old daughter with Down syndrome became an independent two-wheel bike rider. Suddenly we had a physical activity that we could share and I had a very motivating reason to ride my own bike.
Elizabeth had attended a Lose the Training Wheels Bike Camp in 2005 when she was 6 years old; however she never quite got the hang of trying to ride and we never could improve her confidence enough to get her motivated and enthusiastic about riding. So the years passed and when she hit her teenage years, we decided that if we were going to get this accomplished, we’d need some help, so we started to seek out Lose the Training Wheels camps across the country.
Lose the Training Wheels, (newly named iCan Shine in 2013), is a national, non-profit organization that was grew out of the vision of a mechanical engineer, Dr. Richard Klein. He continues to design and develop bikes and all of the hardware to teach the mechanics of bike riding. iCan Shine collaborates with local organizations and individuals to conduct over 100 five day camps in 32 states and 3 provinces in Canada serving nearly 3,000 people with disabilities each year. They state on their website: “The impact of learning to ride a bicycle independently, and our high level of success in helping people with disabilities accomplish this feat, continues to drive demand for our programs and fuel our growth.” iCan Shine estimates that about 80% of all the people that participate end the camp riding a two-wheel bike independently. The additional 20% make progress toward the goal and have the experience of being in control of a bike.
Because of the distance and the cost to take Elizabeth to a camp out-of-state, we chose to turn to our local Down syndrome support network, Designer Genes of North Dakota to see if they would consider hosting a camp right in our home town. Through various partnerships and sponsors, we were able to raise the $12,000 needed and 32 riders were on bikes at the beginning of August that year.
The training bikes are designed with a special, detachable roller that replaces the back tire. As the rider grows in confidence and speed, they are called in for a “pit stop” and the roller is replaced with another that has more “wiggle” or angle. The rider then takes off and again adjusts to the “wiggle” and again gains confidence to provide more balance. The camp requires that each rider has two volunteers that will support them (emotionally and physically) as they ride. These volunteers typically are with the rider all week and a huge bond is formed between them. By Wednesday of the week of camp, the riders are moving onto two-wheels and are riding in an outdoor area.
Elizabeth had immediate success and was an independent bike rider by Wednesday. She had the entire arena in cheers and tears when she took off on her own. Later that summer, she took a 9 mile ride with her dad and me. The next summer, we tackled a 21 mile ride through Minnesota. What is so good to know is that she will always have the option of riding her bike to get where she wants to go as she gets older. Next on her list — her driver’s permit!