Abby Richardson was cruising around the Vaughan Athletic Center in Aurora, pedaling like a pro. It’s hard to believe that just two days earlier, the 11-year-old saw bike riding as an impossible task.
“I am really excited and happy,” said Abby, of Elgin. “This is the first time I actually rode a two-wheeler by myself.”
Abby was one of more than 20 children to take part in Lose the Training Wheels, a weeklong camp that teaches kids with special needs how to ride a conventional, two-wheel bicycle.
It is the second year Fox Valley Special Recreation Association, in partnership with national nonprofit iCan Shine, has hosted the camp.
“To see individuals go from being terrified of riding to cruising around on their own bike in less than four days is incredible,” said Heather Richardson, Fox Valley Special Recreation Association bike camp coordinator. “This has been such an exciting and rewarding week, and I look forward to the success stories continuing to come out of our campers.”
Bikes have a variety of adaptations to help first-time riders, like a roller in lieu of a back wheel to provide stability. As kids show they can stay upright, they “graduate” into the next adaptation until they are ready to go to two-wheels.
And it works.
Since the program began in 2012, almost 2,500 people with special needs in 32 states have learned to ride independently.
“I think the progression helps build their confidence so they feel they can be successful,” said Abby’s mom, Jen. “We have been trying to teach her how to ride a bike, and she was frustrated. A bike was a negative thing but not anymore.”
The camp is staffed largely by a team of volunteers who pair with a participant to guide them every pedal stroke of the way.
“The volunteers are crucial in providing campers with motivation and encouragement the entire time they are riding,” the camp director said. “We simply couldn’t do it without them.”
Volunteer Kyle Kocinski, 17, said it was very rewarding to be part of Losing the Training Wheels.
“We work with the same child each day, so it’s really more of a one-on-one experience,” said Kocinski, a senior at Glenbard South High School.
“Each day we are building and working together as a team; it is really, really special when you get them going.”
And at the end of the camp, about 80 percent will be riding on their own.
“Riding a bike is a lifelong skill and leisure activity,” Heather Richardson said. “We hope they find a new sense of independence, self-confidence, and have fun while learning a new recreational activity.”