For many kids, learning to ride a bike is a rite of passage and something that comes more-or-less naturally. Parents will spend a few hours or days straining their backs in a parking lot chasing their youngster around until he or she begins to balance and eventually graduates to a new level of independence and freedom.
However, a large population of Utah’s children never get this experience. More than 1 in 50 kids in Utah have a special need such as Autism, Down syndrome, or other disability and face significant challenges with coordination, balance, and learning new skills.
A local organization called CycleAbility has been working to change that and is offering its fourth annual summer bike camp for riders with special needs ranging from anxiety to cerebral palsy. In doing this, these riders not only learn a new skill, but find confidence, independence, and a fun, healthy way to be included in their families and communities.
“Becoming an independent rider opened up a whole new world for my son. He is able to go out for rides with his brothers and neighborhood friends. They keep an eye on him and he loves to feel included and just to be a kid out for a bike ride” said Sarah Sargent, a mother of a 2017 camp alumni with Autism.
The 2018 camp is being held June 25-29 at Summit Academy High School in Bluffdale and has space for 40 more riders. Registration is currently open at www.cycleability.org and costs $150. Riders must be able to walk and side step without an assistive device and wear a properly fitted helmet.
CycleAbility is once again partnering with iCanShine to utilize the customized roller bikes to help riders gradually learn coordination and balance. During this process, a dedicated team of volunteers walks or runs alongside each rider providing encouragement, physical support, and an occasional dance party. Many volunteers have found that this not only allows them to do something good for the community, but that they walk away with profound experiences as well.
“I’m so proud to be a part this program. In such a simple act we are facilitating a huge roadblock for young kids with disabilities,” says Mary, a past camp volunteer. “We are giving a big part of childhood to them to ride a bike is not only fun, it’s great exercise, develops independence and empowers them to be a strong individual.
This year, CycleAbility needs over 120 volunteers to help assist their riders. Anyone wishing to volunteer can register on CycleAbility’s website and must be 15 years old or accompanied by a participating adult. Many of the volunteers who have assisted at past camps are riders for the Utah High School Cycling League and are representing their teams as they support the League’s inclusive Elevate program. This program was started in partnership with CycleAbility to help include riders with special needs in a high school sport and has truly made a difference in the mountain biking community.
Other local organizations including Coldwell Banker, the Autism Council of Utah, DNA Cycling, Bountiful Bicycle, and Summit Academy High School make this camp possible. More information about CycleAbility can be found at www.cycleability.org or on Facebook at facebook.com/cycleability.