I CAN is a powerful place to be, but it takes a lot of work to get there.
In a crowded New Jersey gymnasium, bikes are zooming everywhere. Big and small. Fast and slow. They whiz around like fireflies -- circling, fluttering, wobbling -- lit by the desire in their riders' eyes.
"Pedal, pedal, pedal, PEDAL!" shout the buddies, who run alongside. It's their job to keep the kids' feet moving, hands steering, and eyes straight ahead, focused on the so-called road.
At the iCan Bike program, affectionately known as "Bike Camp," children with disabilities are matched with volunteer buddies who -- with the help of adaptive equipment, detailed training, and a whole lot of energy -- teach the kids to ride two-wheelers. Whew!
If you remember learning to ride a bike yourself, you understand the enormity of the task. You know it involves a heap of determination, a touch of anguish, and several good spills.
But iCan Bike sets these kids up for success. Instead of training wheels, they replace the back tires with rollers of different length and thickness. Buddies run behind the bikes to help the children steer, balance, and stop. As the kids learn to control the bikes on their own, the back rollers become shorter and more tapered. The buddies release their hold on the support bars. And we all watch in amazement as the kids progress from adaptive bikes to their own two-wheelers!
So what am I doing here -- besides witnessing some super awesome bike-riding??
In 3 days, I take almost 400 photos, but they barely scratch the surface of the two-wheeled magic...
At the start of the week, the children are tentative. They need boosts from their buddies. Their feet slip off the pedals. They glance from side to side, easily distracted. Some cry with frustration. Others miss turns, bump into bleachers, and hop off their bikes mid-stride to run away.
Then, pedal by pedal, a transformation occurs.
I CAN'T turns into I'LL TRY.
Most buddies are just high school kids themselves, but they become PTs, OTs, coaches, teachers, and cheerleaders. All while running their hearts out!
He attempts tricks: standing on the pedals, picking up speed, even taking a running start. He definitely hops more curbs than he should, yet he rolls on with confidence!
Then there's Hallie, whose dark eyes squint with concentration and intensity.
She's earned more than her share of scraped knees this week. But no matter how many times she wants to give in, her buddies perk her up with pep talks. And when they finally wheel out her own pink and purple bike, she's on the move once again!
Inside the gym, another rider Logan shows me a picture he drew. He explains, "It says What to do What to do because in the beginning, I didn't know what to do."
I step on and off the blacktop, snapping photos as the kids race by. Truly, it's a challenge for me just to avoid being run over! But the rewards are worth it. From the sidelines, I join parents in watching their children soar.
On my own journey, I learned a long time ago the power of I CAN. I was fortunate to be taught by doctors, nurses, therapists, prosthetists, friends, and family who didn't know the meaning of I CAN'T. (Or if they did, they kept it a secret!)
Even now, almost every day, people ask me what I can do. Perhaps it comes with the territory of being bionic...
"Can you bike?" (yes)
"Skate?" (pretty much)
"Run?" (not yet, but someday!)
Still, Bike Camp is a good refresher course.
It reminds us how I CAN'T will stop us in our tracks, while I CAN will send a breeze through our helmets.
And to help span the distance, there's a bridge in the middle called I'LL TRY.
At the end of Bike Camp, not everyone is riding independently yet. But they're all pedaling their fastest, steering their best, and smiling pretty darn wide!
|Medals all around!|
Then the kids take their bikes home to keep practicing...