Adapted Bike Camp In Modesto
Bicycles fitted with some pretty fancy training wheels were circling the Ustach Middle School multipurpose room Monday morning when the Society for Disabilities began its five-day Adapted Bike Camp.
The purpose of the camp is to help special-needs children who have had difficulty learning to ride a two-wheeler. Through one-hour sessions each morning, they progress through greater challenges until many are able to ride on their own by week’s end, said Matt Tilford, program director for the Society for Disabilities.
Bikes’ training wheels, or outriggings, as Tilford called them, use pressurized carbon-dioxide canisters. At first, high pressure keeps the wheels rigid and the riders upright, he said. Over the week, the gas pressure is reduced, requiring more balance by the bicyclists.
As riders learn, they’re accompanied by volunteer aides who provide literal support and cheer them on. As early as day three, some kids are ready for bikes without training wheels but still have those helpers jogging alongside. After they’ve conquered the multipurpose room, they can go out to the school blacktop for longer rides, Tilford said.
The camp has a couple dozen participants spread out among three sessions. It has helped kids with a variety of disabilities – Down syndrome, mild to moderate autism, mild cerebral palsy, visual impairments and other developmental delays – learn to ride. Some kids’ parents have tried to teach them at home, without success, and some kids know how to ride three-wheelers, “but this is an entirely different experience,” Tilford said.
“The first day, I ask parents if their kids have bikes, and if they do, to bring them in on the second day,” he said. The children then are taught on similar bikes so that the transition to their own bikes is minimal. The Society for Disabilities also sells handlebar extensions and rear posts that can be added to the kids’ own bikes.
Savage Middle School student Brock Blakeley, 13, is one of Bike Camp’s return participants. “He always wants to look down, so we have to encourage him to look up at where he’s going,” said his mom, Brenda. She and Brock said he rides his bike in their cul de sac. “I think he likes to come out here to socialize. This is a special event,” she said of Bike Camp.
After finishing his session, Brock said it was fun but hard work. He said he was told to look up and look straight. It was difficult to keep his feet on the pedals, he added, and to not run over cones.
Success comes with practice, practice, practice. “We tell parents they can get out with the kids on weekends,” Tilford said. “Any school parking lot is empty on the weekend” and gives kids a lot of room to maneuver.
“Or cone off your street,” he said. “When I was teaching my kids to ride, that’s what I did. I highly encourage that, even if your child doesn’t have any disability.”
Children arrive at camp with a range of abilities and mind-sets. “Some kids are just daredevils,” Tilford said. “They have no fear and come out ready to try anything.”
Eight-year-old Vincent Tikaram appeared to be one of those children. Smiling all the while, he circled the multipurpose room a couple of times before shouting to his aides, “It’s super-speed time!” He soon had his teen helpers jogging to keep up.
Other children are more fearful of learning to ride but typically overcome it with the encouragement of the youth volunteers, Tilford said. Some campers already know volunteers from school, while others are helped by classmates and form friendships that continue after camp has ended, he said.
Beyer High junior Zeke DuBose was a camper in Monday morning’s first session but hung around to cheer on other kids. He was sitting with Megan Stanfield and Sarah Diryawush, volunteers from the school’s leadership class.
Diryawush said volunteers needed no advance training. They came before Monday’s first session and were taught what they had to know.
Tilford said Adapted Bike Camp could use more volunteers this week because once the campers get out on the blacktop, they can tire out those aides who have to run alongside them.
He said the Society for Disabilities also needs volunteers for its upcoming Miracle League baseball season.
For more on the Miracle League, visit www.miracleleaguemodesto.com.
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327