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Kids with Disabilities Ride Bikes for First Time in Reno

Volunteer Allina Cummins takes a water break with bike rider Noah Melton at the iCan Bike program in Reno.
Volunteer Allina Cummins takes a water break with bike rider Noah Melton at the iCan Bike program in Reno.


Twenty-eight kids who--one week ago--could not ride a bike are now part of the pack, cruising through their neighborhoods with friends and family, enjoying the rush, the scenery, and the independence that all come with this milestone. KUNR's Michelle Bliss attended the final day of the iCan Bike camp in Reno for kids with disabilities like Down syndrome and autism, and she has this special report. Several families watch and cheer from a shady lawn as participants pedal around the parking lot of a warehouse. Nineteen-year-old Zac Trim has completed more than a hundred laps around the track. Once he mastered the basics of steering and braking, Zac graduated to what all adventurous teenage boys are bound to do on a bike... Zac has Down syndrome and before the iCan Bike program came to Reno, his mother Noel says that biking wasn't an option for her son. "He had a bike with big training wheels, like adult training wheels. He got pretty comfortable on that, but when we tried taking the training wheels off, it wasn't very successful. I think he just got a little intimidated with trying to do the balance on his own and he kind of gave up quickly, and then he just didn't want to do it at all." Unfortunately, this situation isn't unique to Zac. Many of the other campers had tried cycling in the past, giving up hope when they didn't have access to the specialized equipment and instruction they needed to ride safely. "The iCan Bike team starts every child with a bike that has a roller on the back instead of a wheel. And they have eight different rollers that they can transition to to create more instability within the bike and to get them to find their balance." That's Diana Rovetti, president of the local Down Syndrome Network, which brought the national iCan Bike program to Nevada this very first time. She explains that once the kids are comfortable on the rollers, they transition to a cruiser-style bike with a large handle on the back. That handle is for a spotter to grab in case the child is about to take a spill. "And then as soon as they've gotten that down really, really well on the iCan Bike bikes, all of the kids are transitioning onto their own bikes that they brought here from home so they can continue this bike riding when they get home after the five days." And that's the heart of this program--instead of giving kids a fleeting experience, iCan Bike teaches them a skill they can use daily, ultimately improving their quality of life. Aaron Gumns, Zac's uncle: "Keep going, Zac! Keep going. Pedal hard! Pump, pump, pump! Nice save, Zac. Nice save." Along with Zac's parents and siblings, his uncle Aaron Gumns took time off work to see his nephew ride. "This is incredibly freeing for him. He gets the ability to learn to ride a bike and can travel when and where he wants to for the most part. This is life-changing. He can even take himself to work. He no longer needs his mother to take him to work. It's very empowering for him-you can see it." Paul Rinaldi is another spectator. He says that along with mobility, the camp has provided his fifteen-year-old son Peter with several intrinsic rewards. "The biggest issue for them is not just the mechanics of riding but getting past the fear. And watching him accomplish that and get over that is a great thing because it goes far beyond the biking. It builds his self-confidence and his trust in himself." After five days of intense training, the kids and parents and volunteers all take a moment to join together and celebrate the week's triumphs. Diana Rovetti: "I would like to give a big round of applause for all of our bike riders!" Each child leaves camp with a commemorative medal, but more importantly, each child leaves camp ready and able to reclaim a missing facet of their childhood. Listen to KUNR's extended interview with Diana Rovetti and Paul Rinaldi about the iCan Bike event and parenting children with disabilities like Down syndrome. See Diana Rovetti's fifteen-year-old son Jack ride his bike for the first time.

Michelle Billman is a former news director at KUNR Public Radio.