Learning to ride a bike is a rite of passage for most kids. For special needs children, however, the innate balance and coordination necessary for this delightful milestone is a formidable task.
A Draper nonprofit called Cycle Ability wants to make it easier and needs volunteers for their June special needs bicycle camp at Summit Academy High School. Now in its third year, the weeklong camp, June 19-23, has a 90 percent success rate getting special needs kids and adults traveling on two wheels.
“We all remember when we learned how to ride a bike…it’s a great achievement. It changes everything,” says Draper resident Steven Palmer, who along with his wife, Sally, brought the Cycle Ability camp to Utah. The Palmers never thought their 18-year-old son Elijah, who was diagnosed with autism, would ride a bike. “Things don’t come easy for him,” says his mom.
The camp transformed him into a cyclist.
“He could barely sit on a bike with training wheels when I first meet him,” recalls Jordan Andersen, last year’s team captain of Corner Canyon High School’s mountain biking team, who paired with then 16-year-old Elijah at the Cycle Ability camp and developed a friendship with him. “By the end of the week at camp, he could totally ride a bike.”
As with any kid who learns to ride, Elijah’s confidence grew and he continued bicycling after the camp. He spent a summer learning mountain biking skills with his dad in church parking lots and at Draper Park. Despite some spills and rough starts, Elijah joined the Corner Canyon High School’s mountain bike team first as a manager his sophomore year, then as a rider his junior and senior year. He never missed a practice and competed in races.
Andersen recalls joining him on team practice rides, mostly on dirt trails. “It was so cool to see his progress,” he says. “These were super technical, hard to ride trails, too.”
The Palmers say they see transformation in other special needs kids who attend Cycle Ability, many of whom go on to try other sports, such as swimming. Parents are transformed, too, says Sally. “Their kids gain confidence and independence. It is a special thing to watch happen and see tears in parents’ eyes as their child rides a bike for the first time.”
Cycle Ability is dependent on volunteers to assist in the five bike riding sessions a day for five days. In past camps, they’ve had the Juan Diego Catholic High School girls’ soccer team, the Corner Canyon High School mountain biking team, along with Draper residents, volunteer. Area businesses including Draper’s Coldwell Banker, DNA, Summit Academy High School and Bountiful Bicycle provide funding, equipment and space.
“This is a unique volunteer opportunity to work one-on-one with someone and to see the joy that comes to them in just a matter of days from doing something they never thought was possible,” says Steven.
Andersen, who continues his friendship with Elijah with meet ups for ice cream, says the volunteer experience was worth it.
“It gives you a new perspective on what your abilities are and how you can help other people,” he says. “It’s amazing how a simple little thing like learning to ride a bike can make such a difference.”