When the iCan Bike program rolled into the Wichita Ice Center last month, 40 youth with varying disabilities grabbed life by the handlebars. The week-long camp is designed to teach cycling to children with developmental disabilities to ride a bike. For many, riding a bike is entrenched as a youthful rite of passage, an expected childhood development filed in between learning to read and losing baby teeth. But even with all the worthwhile services provided to people with different abilities, the teaching of the most essential recreational activity was being overlooked. Learning to bike is a portal. It’s the intersection of sport and independence, it’s in the doorway of competition and confidence.
iCan Bike is under the larger iCan Shine umbrella, a national organization that “provides quality learning opportunities” for a host of recreational activities. iCan Shine sent two staffers, Donovan Bryan and John Reyes, and their custom designed bikes and equipment for the Wichita camp, hosted by the Independent Living Resource Center.
Donovan, floor supervisor, and John, bike technician, worked with dozens of volunteers to integrate their cycling curriculum throughout the week. Each camper began the week on a bike with a training wheel—a specially engineered device that allowed for side-to-side leaning, a sort of convex rolling pin. Each day, Donovan and John upped the ante and the campers became more comfortable behind the wheel as their roller wheels tapered in size giving them more control over the bike. Our DietsInReview banner at one end of the arena read, “No matter your speed, we all cross the same finish line.” There was a cheering section full of friends and family.
Donovan, who recently graduated from Ball State University with a degree in exercise science and specializing in adapted physical education, has been with iCan Bike for two years and has run 16 camps. He was inspired to work with iCan Bike from previous experience teaching youngsters.
“An increase in self-esteem, confidence, inclusion, positive changes in family dynamics, independent transportation, and physical activity are the main benefits of bike riding for people with disabilities,” he said. Donovan swore the experience couldn’t be articulated through words. “It may sound off,” he said, “but my favorite thing is for a parent to come up to me crying at the end of the week, overcome with joy that their rider is doing something neither of them ever thought they could do.”
At the end of the Wichita camp, when parents embraced volunteers with visible tears, and vice versa, there was nothing off about it. It was a rare moment for all, to be in the presence of such an exquisite metamorphosis.
“It’s the most satisfying thing I do all year,” said our editor Brandi Koskie, who has volunteered at two camps. “That first day is so hard. Everyone is frustrated, but so committed and hopeful. The transformation you watch these kids make in five short days is incredible. The pride the kids feel for themselves, the celebrations they have with their parents and even amongst the other riders, it’s proof positive that anything is possible. I can’t shouldn’t be in anyone’s vocabulary.”
By Friday, campers had progressed to being firmly planted on two wheels, flying solo in the summer sun. After five short 75-minute sessions, most of these kids were riding on their own bikes, often unassisted. The campers had lost the training wheels and were thrilled to be in the doorway of limitless possibility, skinned knees and all.
In both a sponsorship and volunteer capacity, we at DietsInReview were grateful to witness the courage, mettle, and boldness of the campers as they lost the training wheels and realized the obstacles they face aren’t insurmountable; neither are the ones any of us face. This year we were thrilled to be the snack sponsor, ensuring campers, volunteers, and families enjoyed healthy snacks each day. Cheese sticks, clementines, bananas and pretzels were provided by Team DIR, with Chobani Champions Tubes, Kind Snacks Fruit + Nut Bars, and Unreal candy graciously providing enough snacks for everyone for the week.
images courtesy of Jerry Fritchman