The week my 8-year-old learned to bike

If you were to venture into our backyard on any given day, most likely a kid or two would wiz past riding a bike.

Trails are formed all over our yard. Our landscaping (if you can call it that) is made up of jumps of all types, ramps, obstacles, and one really epic “tractor trail” jump that makes me hold my breath every time my 7 year old sails over it four feet into the air.

My kids have bike-riding in their blood. My husband was a downhill mountain bike racer and has all the knowledge and skills to teach them to ride. We get them on bikes as soon as they can walk. It’s good for them. Bike riding is about more than skills. It’s fresh air and hard work and good, solid, wholesome fun.

It’s competition and working together and problem solving. It’s fixing a popped tire together and persevering though building a new trail. It’s independence and freedom. It’s the wind rushing through your hair and laughter filling the air as you race back to the house. It’s responsibility to stay within your limits and obey the rules. It’s transportation and entertainment all in one. There are few things in life that have such versatility and also few things in life that elicit such childlike joy – in child and adult alike.

There are few things in life that have such versatility and also few things in life that elicit such childlike joy – in child and adult alike.

There we were, practically spokespeople for bike riding, and we were stuck. Yulia is 8. She’s the most encouraging, kindhearted and selfless kid I’ve ever met. She also happens to have cerebral palsy and terrible balance. For a year we held the handlebars of balance bikes, resorted to trying training wheels, and eventually realized that we were making no progress; she could not ride a bike.

We saw no improvement in that year, and it was obvious that she wasn’t going to suddenly start riding. It was even more obvious that she was quite aware of just what she couldn’t seem to do. She said it was fine, but it wasn’t.

And then there was bike camp. For 5 days, Yulia went to iCanBike camp. She was fitted for a specialized bike- made to help her feel the balance. With a long horizontal cylinder instead of a back tire and a hand bar off the back for a volunteer to support her, she was ready to go. These were tools previously out of our reach. She leaned and wobbled and even fell. She smiled and laughed and said it was hard work. She called for us as she peddled by.

Each day she got more stable, learned to turn more smoothly, wobbled less. She got to know her volunteer and fully soaked up her praises and encouragement. The atmosphere was one of camaraderie as parents and volunteers cheered for each others’ kids, prayed that they’d be brave when they didn’t want to try, and barely held back tears when it would finally click for a camper.

She smiled and laughed and said it was hard work. She called for us as she peddled by.

That week was amazing for Yulia. iCanBike gave her something we couldn’t. They gave her the chance to ride a bike, to know what it feels like, to experience it and to love it. They gave her confidence and the chance to do something that was otherwise impossible for her. Many people came out of that week riding independently. To see young adults with special needs riding for the first time, it is something that is unforgettable. Sometimes it just takes a new approach, some specialized tools, and a person’s life is truly changed.

I share our story in the hopes that you will share your time.

Yulia didn’t come out riding completely independently but iCanBike camp gave her confidence and drive and the chance to feel the wind in her hair. If you asked Yulia what she got out of it, she’d say “A cool trophy!”, but on Saturday morning she pulls out her bike and asks us to help her. For the next hour, her giggles fill the air as she peddles around the patio all the while talking to herself under her breath saying, “You are doing it Yulia! You are riding!”

I share our story in the hopes that you will share your time. This week is one that you don’t want to miss, and the campers need you not to. The program depends on volunteers stepping up to make this seemingly simple thing – riding a bike – possible for those whose story is not so simple.

-Rachael Swolgaard

Will you serve as a volunteer at this year’s iCanBike camp?

Camp is set up in five 1.5 hour sessions each day. You can sign up for a whole day, one time slot, or commit to a daily time slot  to really connect with one camper. You must be 16 and older to volunteer.

The camp is specifically in need of volunteers during these time slots:

  • 10:05-11:20

  • 2:00-3:15 

 

Fill out this form to let us know you might be interested or to get more information. To commit to volunteering, please continue your registration by printing out on the form on the YMCA webpage. For questions, please contact emcgowan@gracechurchsc.org.