Challenged kids learn the fun of riding a bike at a week-long camp

Eight years ago, Mary Evans had a patient who wanted to ride a bike with her brothers. Through physiotherapy, Evans helped him become stronger. But teaching him to ride a horse was not easy.

So she contacted iCan Shine, a non-profit organization that provides learning opportunities through recreational activities for people of varying degrees of ability, and a week-long camp at Emerson Hospital was born.

“It’s really life changing because all of a sudden their siblings and their parents are looking at them differently because it’s a skill they couldn’t learn,” said Evans, the pediatric supervisor at Emerson Hospital. Clough Family Center for Rehabilitative. and sports therapy. “They think, ‘maybe there are other things I can do.’ ”

Last week, the center hosted the sixth edition iCan Bike learn-to-bike camp for children and adults with special needs at Lawrence Academy, where counselors and teen volunteers taught campers the simple joy of ride a bike.

Katy Baker of Winchester said she was grateful to the camp for giving her children – Jane, 8, and Henry, 9, autistic – something to look forward to during their school holidays.

“It was great for both of them. Jane just got off the ground and Henry still has a lot of work to do, but it gave him some strong fundamental skills,” she said.

Melissa Mahoney and her daughter Jillian, 9, who has Down syndrome, said they had an incredibly positive experience at camp.

“All the volunteers were so patient, everyone was so encouraging. They just paced her and went at her pace and she dictated everything and they were really helpful,” said Mahoney, who lives in Sudbury. “It surprised us all, and she was rolling at the end of the week.”

Many people living with challenges never have the experience of riding a conventional two-wheeled bicycle, and Evans said that accomplishment has deep meaning for children with special needs and their families.

“Cycling on a weekend or taking a bike train brings that fun that’s often hard to come by if you have a child with special needs and are teaching them life skills,” Evans said. “I spent so many years as a physiotherapist teaching students to stand up and walk and realized that for a family to have joy they need fun things to do together.”

Rose Pecci can be contacted at [email protected]

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