Children with disabilities who had to give up bikes years ago have mastered two-wheelers this week


SCHENECTADY – Frank Richer hasn’t been able to ride a bike since he outgrew his training wheels more than three years ago.

With autism, the 16-year-old struggled to learn the balance needed to ride a two-wheeler with his friends.

So he and his mom traveled from Chenango (near Binghamton) to Schenectady and stayed in a hotel for a week to sign up for a bike camp run by STRIDE Adaptive Sports.

On Thursday afternoon, he was riding solo on the Union College track, with a spotter patiently talking to him about the final lesson: how to brake.

Her mother watched with admiration.

“Did he just go all the way around on his own?” she asked. “Oh it’s cool.”

Many children with cognitive or physical disabilities stop riding once they outgrow their training wheels, usually around age eight. There are options, including three-wheeled bikes, but not mastering a two-wheeler sometimes leaves teens feeling less capable than their cycling friends.

Riding a two-wheeled bicycle builds self-confidence as well as independence, STRIDE volunteers said.

“My brother was part of this program and he did wonders,” said volunteer Steven Sadek, 17. “We tried to teach him. We were failing miserably. In this program, in three days, he was all alone.

Now the two brothers set off together for long walks in the woods.

“It’s really nice – most places are calm and quiet and just me and him and the trees,” he said. “This is very fun.”

The program begins with two spotters running alongside the runner, keeping them upright. Students start with a bicycle that has a front wheel and a rear roller, then slowly progress to finer rollers before moving to two wheels. Eventually, they only need one spotter holding a pole set up behind the bike seat.

Two students graduated on the Union College track on Thursday, where they cycled alone with spotters helping them start and practice braking. By mid-afternoon, Richer and another student were doing so well that the observers got out bikes and started riding with them.

“I’m just happy not to fall on my face,” Richer said between rounds.

His mother is looking forward to biking the Erie Canal trail near their house and camping in July.

“His friends are riding their bikes,” said Brandi Richer. “Hopefully that will get him out more. He was outside all the time riding a bike with training wheels. Once he couldn’t take it anymore, he sat inside.

The volunteers love to see the progress made by the students in just five days.

“It’s been so rewarding to watch the kids go from being super nervous, sometimes honestly afraid of the bike, to being able to ride,” said volunteer Taylor South.

Inside the Achilles center at Union College, other students were still working at the direction with a volunteer to help them balance. The program has an 80-90% success rate, but the others are very close to independence at the end of the week.

Among them is Rachel Fluck, 12, who has Down syndrome. She was able to stand while going straight. But on Thursday they were still working on the bends, with a volunteer tapping his hip to remind him not to lean too much.

“My son and his friends all ride bikes and she has a little scooter, but she can’t keep up,” Fluck’s mother Maggie said. “I think it’s really important. I wish she could go out and ride with her brother and his friends.

STRIDE taught 27 kids how to ride a bike this week, but didn’t have enough volunteers for another 13 kids who applied to join the program.

“Next year, we hope that enough volunteers will be mobilized to be able to offer the program to 40 children,” said director Camille Pawlowski.


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