The young boy is a camper at iCan Bike, a national nonprofit dedicated to teaching disabled children how to ride.
Campers attend five days of 75-minute sessions. When the week is done, approximately 80 percent of them can independently ride a two-wheel bicycle.
“It’s a big form of independence for them,” said Deborah Myerson, a member of the Bloomington iCan Bike organizing committee. “Riding a bike is a big thing for any kid, but for a kid with disabilities it’s a chance to experience the same independence and autonomy that they wouldn’t otherwise have.”
This week marks the first time the program has been offered in Bloomington, and each of the 24 camper spots were quickly filled.
Though purchasing a pet might seem like an extreme measure to get a child off training wheels, parents of disabled children often have to employ extraordinary tactics to help their special needs children reach this childhood landmark.
“It’s not just taking the training wheels off and giving them a push,” said Dave Jent, a father of one of the campers. “Once these kids fall, it’s a fear that doesn’t go away very quickly. It’s an ingrained fear so they think they’re going to fall every time.”
Jent’s son, Beau, is a 12-year-old with autism.
Jent watched as Beau zoomed across the floor on one of the program’s specially built bicycles. These bicycles have a sort of roller on the back that is less frightening than a normal wheel but also less stable than training wheels.
The bikes also have handles coming out of the backs for the volunteers to hold.
There are 60 volunteers helping out this week so each camper has at least two helpers. Most of them are IU students.
“I actually just thought it would be fun to do this,” said Harrison Carter, an IU senior studying computer science, said. “I feel like it’s building me as a person.”
The camp costs $12,000 to run. These funds cover the cost of getting the bikes to Bloomington and paying the iCan Bike staff members, who travel to different communities leading camps.
“Wednesday, once we get them launched, is the best part of my job,” said Mark Spicer, an iCan Bike staff member, referring to the day of camp that most of the attendees are able to try riding on their own bicycles. “Usually there’s not a dry eye in the stands.”
Because of the expense and the relative smallness of the Bloomington community, Myerson said it’s unlikely the program will be a yearly event.
She said every two years might be a better goal.
Jent said he is looking forward to watching Beau ride through the neighborhood with his two younger siblings.
“Kids with autism love the TV and the iPads,” he said. “It’s not that he doesn’t want to be active, he’s just limited. So this is a great way for him to get outside.”
After just one day, Beau seemed unfazed by the activity that used to frighten him, Jent said. When his dad asked if the riding was difficult, Beau gave a quick shrug, “No.”