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Special Needs Kids Learn What it Takes to Ride a Bike

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Clark Davis

As easy as riding a bike – that’s how the old saying goes. But for kids with special needs it can be tough. This week, a day-camp in Huntington has been helping children with developmental disabilities learn how to ride on their own.  

Garrett Howard is an 11-year-old boy from nearby Meigs County, Ohio. He has down syndrome and wants to learn how to ride a bike.

Garrett is just one of 22 participants at Huntington High School this week where Marshall University’s School of Kinesiology is hosting a Lose the Training Wheels Camp. Along with the non-profit called iCanShine, volunteers and professors help students learn how to ride a bike over the course of a week.

Garrett and his mom Robyn Howard have come from an hour away to take part in a 75-minute session each day for five days. Robyn said it means a lot.

“Oh absolutely, the inclusion with other kids just to make the summer time memories of being out with the kids riding their bikes. Exercise you know, as a family his father and I ride in the summer time for fitness,” Robyn Howard said.

Instead of the old-fashioned training wheel approach, the program uses special bikes that allow the students to gain confidence in their riding ability more slowly, learning how to balance their weight with the appropriate speed. Kevin Crenshaw is with iCanShine.

“We have a way to teach kids and adults with disabilities how to ride a bike without other common methods such as training wheels or taking their feet off the pedals and having them scoot, this equipment helps level the playing field and gives our riders an opportunity to learn in a more gradual and safe way,” Crenshaw said.

That teaching method involves students riding with iCanShine members on tandem bikes and then on bikes by themselves with guides that do not have training wheels, but instead have a wheel on the back that looks like a baker’s roller with a gradual slope. As the week progresses the slope increases and students begin to find the right balance with the appropriate speed until they’re riding on their own. Gregg Twietmeyer is an Associate Professor in the School of Kinesiology and the Director of the Camp. He said it means a lot for a 5-year-old to learn to ride.

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Credit Clark Davis

“And it’s this really cool sense of independence and your first step into adulthood, obviously you’re only five, but it feels like it at the time,” Twietmeyer said. “And you can imagine if that couldn’t happen for some reason what a big downer it would be in terms of peer inclusion and self-confidence and just having fun, not to mention on your family if you have a younger brother and you haven’t learned to ride yet at 10 and they’re five.”

Participants have to pay $100 to take part in the camp, but accord to Twietmeyer scholarships are available and no one has ever been turned away. Research from the University of Michigan says that kids with disabilities who learn to ride, become less sedentary, increase their self-esteem and become more apt to play with other kids in the community. Twietmeyer said more research needs to be done to understand the effects, but he says you can see it makes a difference.

According to Twietmeyer and the iCanShine organization 80% of campers go home riding on two wheels. Numbers like that have brought out volunteers like Leon Hart, a former special education teacher.

“I see the smiles on their faces and I see the increased self-esteem and confidence they get, but the satisfaction you get for playing some part in this is just unbelievable and I always say they give me more than I could ever give back to them,” Hart said.

The camp will wrap-up Friday at Huntington High School.


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