The State Journal-Register | Springfield, IL
By DEAN OLSEN : June 22, 2011
Maggie George of Springfield was riding a two-wheel bicycle Wednesday without training wheels, and her mother was ecstatic about her daughter’s accomplishment and reaction.
“I haven’t seen that big a smile in a long time, “ Donet George told 11-year-old Maggie. “Good job, sweetie."
Maggie, who has autism, is learning a new skill and gaining confidence during a camp operated by Lose the Training Wheels, a not-for-profit organization that works throughout the United States and Canada to help people with physical and intellectual disabilities learn to ride a bicycle.
“Riding a bike is a rite of passage for a lot of individuals, “ said Cory Bunner, 25, a physical-education teacher from Jacksonville and bicycle technician with the group. “We hope this skill will open up new avenues for our participants. It’s a great way for these kids to be successful."
Eighteen children and young adults are participating in a five-day camp that ends Friday in the iceless rink area at Springfield Park District’s Nelson Center. The Springfield camp, for which participants paid a $200 fee, is sponsored by the Land of Lincoln Down Syndrome Society and central Illinois chapter of the Autism Society of America.
Lose the Training Wheels, the brainchild of former University of Illinois mechanical engineering professor Richard Klein, uses special bicycles with rear-wheel roller systems developed by Klein that give participants stability and immediate feelings of success.
The roller is replaced with different versions over the five days so it more closely resembles a bicycle wheel as riders gain confidence and begin to master the balance, steering and coordination that has frustrated them and their parents in the past.
During once-a-day, 75-minute sessions, volunteers jog next to riders and use handles at the rear of the bikes to steady the participants while encouraging them.
At the end of the camps, 80 percent of campers can ride at least 75 feet without intervention, Bunner said, but the 12-year-old organization doesn’t have long-term data yet on how many people become independent bicycle riders.
Deana Koudelik said she and her husband, Tom, live in Pearland, Texas, and used a trip to visit relatives in Decatur as an opportunity for their son, Dale, to attend the camp.
Dale, 10, who has Asperger’s syndrome, wants to ride bikes with all the other children in his Texas neighborhood, Deana Koudelik said.
Dale smiled Wednesday as he rode a regular two-wheel bike for several dozen feet, totally on his own.
“I think he’s proud, “ his mother said.
Maggie George said the camp has helped to ease her fear of falling.
“I feel good," she said.
Kathy Mullen’s 16-year-old son, Spencer, who has Down syndrome, may not be an independent rider by the end of camp. But she said Spencer is making progress that she and her husband can build upon at their home in Girard and during future Lose the Training Wheels camps.
“He’s doing really good," she said, adding that riding a bike would allow Spencer to go on long bike rides with family members and take part in a lifelong physical activity for socialization, weight control and overall good health.
Becky Johnson, who is coordinating the camp on behalf of the Down syndrome society, said her 15-year-old daughter, Shelbie Nevill, took part in a Lose the Training Wheels camp three years ago. Shelbie, who has Down syndrome, now can ride on her own.
Johnson, a Springfield resident, said riding a bike can help people with disabilities change public attitudes by becoming more visible and showing the non-disabled population that they have abilities.
“It makes them look at our kids differently," she said.
On the Web: www.losethetrainingwheels.org
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