“When do I get to…?” has topped the list of frequently asked questions this year. After years of being dragged to his big sister’s activities, G is finally starting to develop an awareness that there is life beyond his iPad and activity books. And so it begins. “When do I get to go rock climbing? When do I get to do gymnastics? When do I get to learn how to ice skate?”
Part of me is thrilled. I’m so happy that he’s starting to be aware of the many activities his sister participates in. I’m also delighted that he views himself as capable of learning to rock climb, learning to do gymnastics, learning to ice skate. Part of me is sad. I’m aware that rock climbing, gymnastics, ice skating, horse back riding, playing softball and every other physical activity under the sun come easily to our adventurous, athletically gifted daughter. For G, reaching physical milestones has always been more of a challenge. I think back to his first wobbly steps, finally achieved on his second birthday, after over a year and a half of physical therapy.
And so, I meet the barrage of “When do I get to….?” queries with mixed emotion. Delighted he wants to try something new. Sad, knowing it will probably be hard. But most of all, determined to find a way to help him achieve his goal.
His latest question, “When do I get to learn to ride a bike?” hit me the same way. The last time we put him on a bike, he was absolutely uninterested. As long as his dad kept full body contact, with one hand on the bike seat, one hand on the handlebars, and David’s big shoulder leaning against G’s small one… everything was fine. But the second contact was broken; G burst into tears and demanded to get off the bike. Putting G on a pedal-less “balance bike” generated similar frustration.
Clearly, the traditional methods of learning to bike were not going to work for G.
However, my mission was clear. I set into full-on research mode, and discovered that there was to be an adaptive bike camp offered in the next town over from us for one week in late August. Somehow, I managed to clear my own schedule of work, personal, and family obligations for one week, find an alternate activity for S, purchase a bike for G, and learn how to use the bike rack on our car so I could transport the bike myself.
It felt like a lot of work, and I will readily admit I was quite grumpy about it.
I was quite grumpy about it…. Until we arrived at camp on the first day. Early on Monday morning, we walked through the doors of the local high school. Immediately, two smiling young women greeted us. They introduced themselves as Charlotte and Tracy- G’s biking buddies for the week. Charlotte and Tracy escorted us into the gym. The festive atmosphere blew me away! Upbeat music piped through the loudspeaker system filled the air. No less than thirty volunteers were busy greeting the eight nervous soon-to-be bikers, while four bike camp staff circulated amongst them, checking helmets and measuring legs. A fleet of shiny bikes in all shapes and sizes were parked at the edge of the gym.
Within minutes, the bike camp staff had expertly placed each camper on a perfectly sized adaptive bike. The front of the bike was the same as a regular two-wheeler, but instead of a wheel on the back, these bikes had a wide, tapered roller. Throughout the week, the campers progressed from the big rollers, to smaller rollers, and eventually to a regular two-wheel bike.
For the next hour and a half, the campers did laps around the gym on their adaptive bikes, accompanied by their volunteers. I spent the time on the sidelines, taking pictures and chatting with the other parents, some of who had travelled from great distances to bring their child to this camp.
When the time was up, G sadly said good-bye to Tracy and Charlotte. For the rest of the afternoon and evening, he spoke about nothing except bike camp. “Did you see me? Did you see me on my bike? I was riding so fast. I was like a blur! Tomorrow, I’m going to do it again. Today, I had one tune-up and moved to a smaller wheel. Tomorrow, I might have TWO tune-ups, and move to a smaller wheel, and a SMALLER wheel. Did you see me? Did you see me?!?”
As the week progressed, the size of G’s training wheels decreased, and his confidence blossomed. Every day, he bounced out of bed and asked, “Is it time for bike camp yet?”
For me, it’s been thrilling to watch him gain confidence and skill. It’s also been very meaningful to be supported in this endeavor by an amazing group of volunteers. Every day, G and his fellow campers have been riding laps around the gym. Every day, a team of volunteers has been running alongside of them, cheering them on and encouraging them.
These are the ups and downs of parenting a child with special needs. Something as small as teaching your child to ride a bike requires a monumental investment of time, money and energy. It requires research, resources, and emotional stamina. That’s the down. But time and time again, I find the down is outweighed by the up. The experience of watching my child try something new and succeed. The camaraderie of sharing the experience with other parents of kids with disabilities. And most of all, the beauty of seeing a village come together- a team of experts, volunteers, and parents- working towards the common goal of supporting our kids is absolutely amazing.
Thank you, iCan Bike Camp, for your awe-inspiring work.