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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
Kendall Hill, 5 years old and wearing her finest sparkly rainbow-colored tennis shoes and a bright red helmet, climbed into the front seat of the bulky tandem bicycle and giggled as a volunteer strapped her in.
The kindergartner crinkled up her face in serious concentration as she tried to push the pedals to get the specially adapted bike to go. It was a bit intimidating, so Kendall ever so subtly and without a sound reached behind her and grabbed the hand of Betsy Fraker, her aide at Navin Elementary School in Marysville. Together, the two pedaled their way around the gymnasium, offering Kendall a new kind of fun and freedom from the "driver's" seat.
J.L. Herron, a volunteer with the central Ohio-based nonprofit group Adaptive Sports Connection (known until recently as the Adaptive Adventure Sports Coalition), looked on. "You see that smile?" he asked. "Pure joy. It just doesn't get any better than that. Brings a tear to your eye."
Kendall was one of 16 children with varying disabilities who spent their gym class Friday afternoon trying out any one or more of 17 modified cycles that the organization brought in. It's all part of outreach efforts funded by a $13,300 grant that the Union County Board of Development Disabilities awarded ASC this year. The grant paid for the $6,500 tandem bike that Kendall and Fraker tried out, but it also paid for a shed at Glacier Ridge Metro Park, where as many as a dozen adaptive bikes will be kept and available for those who register. There also will be regular group rides.
Erica Stottlemyer, physical therapist for the Marysville School District, cheered the kids on at Navin Elementary. She said the value of a specially equipped bicycle to someone with a disability almost cannot be measured. The bike-riding helps in a number of ways, not the least of which are in improving balance and coordination and overall physical health because of the exercise.
But the feelings that come along with the experience are really priceless.
"A lot of people take their family to the park to ride bikes. That's a normal, typical, happy experience," Stottlemyer said. "And, well, our families maybe can't do that. So this allows a child to do what they see their friends doing. And it helps their parents realize, 'My kid can be like everybody else.' Our kids do get excluded a lot, and this is a way to be included."
Maddison Mattey, ASC's director of sports and volunteers, said the modified bikes -- which include anything from having three wheels for stability to being powered by hands instead of feet to the tandem in which the back rider is in control) -- help to equalize experiences, especially for children.
"To be able to suddenly go the same speed as your siblings, or to finally be in the front rider's position instead of in a pull-behind cart, is an awesome experience," Mattey said. "It's really cool to see what happens when someone does something new on their own. You see the child realize something in themselves they've never seen."
There is an annual membership fee to participate in the organization's programs (interested people can go to its website at https://taasc.org to sign up), but scholarships are available and no one is turned away. Mattey said she doesn't expect things to really get going until the weather breaks.
Glacier Ridge is attractive to the users of modified bicycles because the trails are largely flat, and about six miles are paved, said Metro Parks spokeswoman Peg Hanley. She said making the park more accessible to people with disabilities is a great opportunity.
"We are delighted. These partnerships are key to us," Hanley said. "For us, we say bring it on."
Ashley Payne visited the Navin Elementary gym Friday and watched as her 8-year-old daughter, Emma Shreve, rode a hand-propelled bike with joy. Emma, who has autism, a chromosomal disorder and is non-verbal, has outgrown the specially fitted tricycle she had, so they're in the market for a new one. Getting the chance to try out so many bikes was a blessing, Payne said.
She said having Emma riding a bike with the family -- that includes a 5-year-old sister -- means so much. She looked at Emma as she spoke, and nudged her shoulder playfully with a mother's love.
"You like to be a part of things, don't you?" Payne asked. "You like to be outdoors just like everyone else."
And Emma laughed.
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