Wheel power

Program helps disabled children ride bikes for the first time
A volunteer assists as a youngster takes control of a two-wheel bike for the first time, during the ‘Lose the Training Wheels’ event Aug. 16 at the University of Richmond.

Thirteen-year-old Kemani grinned from ear to ear as he successfully experienced the exhilaration of riding a two-wheel bike for the first time at University of Richmond’s Weinstein Center on Aug. 16. His smile was provided courtesy of “Lose The Training Wheels,” an event sponsored by the Richmond Hope Foundation that opens up a gateway of opportunities for children with disabilities. The room was filled with joyous parents and volunteers witnessing pivotal childhood moments. Thirty-one children participated in the week-long event, which offered them the freedom and confidence that comes with riding a bike.

“We had been struggling for years to teach him how to ride a bike,” said Kemani’s mother, Noire. “It’s been amazing – he’s riding around, feeling confident, excited every day to come and he’s come further than I have in years with him in four days.

“What you see now was impossible before. He couldn’t get the concept of balance. But the bike itself trains them and lets them know that they have a part in that but allows them to brake themselves. There’s no pressure. They see the other children, and it’s very motivating. Everyone here is so caring and loving and patient.”

Lose the Training Wheels is a non-profit organization that teaches children with disabilities how to ride a conventional two-wheeled bicycle and become independent riders for life. The program travels across the country coordinating camps in different cities and offers 75-minute sessions. Its success is linked to adaptive bicycles,
created by Dr. Richard Klein, that have rollers instead of a back wheel.

When the children first arrive, many have fear and anxiety about riding a bike. But the roller allows them to be successful from the beginning, instilling confidence immediately. As the children get more comfortable and their speed and balance improve, the rollers are changed to more tapered rollers, which require more balance and offer
a little less stability each time.

Most people are familiar with riding a bike, but for those with disabilities it can be a frustrating task that seems nearly impossible. The success rate of Lose the Training Wheels is high: about 90 percent of children that participate in the program master bike riding skills in less than a week. The feeling of achievement helps them gain assurance, independence, social skills and a positive outlook while riding without wheels and experiencing the thrill.

During the week-long event, participants are paired with one or two volunteers – typically teens – who stay with them throughout the program. In a short period of time, a bond is formed and the relationship between the rider and volunteer is a sincere friendship that seems to motivate the kids to do better.

Andrea Patrick, 24, is an employee of Lose the Training Wheels and has been working with the program for three years.

“This is honestly the most amazing thing I have ever been a part of,” Patrick said. “We meet people for a week and see their lives change. They learn to ride a bike, they gain confidence, they get to be included with peers and families going on bike rides, increase in their self-esteem, and they’re proud of themselves. It’s a really neat thing to see the effect on the participants and the families and how proud they are of them. It’s neat to see how many people it affects positively.”

Richmond Hope Foundation raised the funds to bring Lose the Training Wheels to the Metro Richmond community for the fourth year in a row. RHF’s goal is to sponsor children for life-changing physical therapy services that enrich each child’s life, while helping their families by providing financial assistance to those in need.

At the beginning of the week, the children bring in their bikes and a tech fits each one to the child. On the last day of the camp, each child “graduates” by riding a bike without training wheels for the first time. A family member accompanies each rider, and each participant receives a medal, a t-shirt and a picture of himself or herself on two wheels.

Cindy Sharp, director of development for RHF, was excited to bring the program back.

“Sometimes there’s not much offered to the special needs community in terms of recreation,” Sharp said. “But this gives them self-esteem and it transcends to all aspects of their daily life, as well as health issues, cardio, building up muscles and being able to have control themselves. It has been very well received. If you see them on Monday and then on Friday, it’s amazing.”
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Jewish Family Theatre will present “Company” Dec. 8-18 at the Weinstein JCC. From musical theatre's most renowned composer, Stephen Sondheim, “Company” is regarded as a trailblazer of the dark-comedy, modern-musical genre and is the winner of seven Tony Awards. All performances are at 7:30 p.m. except for Sunday matinees which are at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for JCC members, $30 for nonmembers and $15 for seniors, students and groups of 10+. For details, visit http://www.weinsteinjcc.org. Full text

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