The Miracle League of CT, along with the iCanShine organization, sponsored the iCanBike program in West Hartford, where children with special needs learn to ride two-wheel bikes in five, 75-minute sessions.
By Gillian Hixson
Conard High School’s parking lot was full of proud parents, brave children, and excited volunteers as the iCanBike campers rode their final laps around the lot on Friday, July 28.
After four days of training and practicing, many of the 40 campers rode their two-wheel bikes independently with their volunteers running alongside them.
The iCanBike program is “designed to teach children with special needs how to ride two-wheel bikes,” organizer Mike Michaud explained. Campers come to Conard every day for one week and take part in this “very adaptive” program.
The campers start off the week in the gym, riding various versions of adaptive bikes around the gym. Most begin with a bike with one regular wheel in the front and what looks like a rolling pin in the back. This adaptive equipment is used to establish the child’s balance and skills, such as steering and pedaling, Michaud said.
The back wheel is then adjusted each day, becoming less flat and more curved. In all, there are nine different changes to the rolling pin wheel, Michaud pointed out. The volunteers do not tell the camper the wheel is changing as to avoid causing any distress, which is an important step in the process, Michaud added.
The iCanBike program is a collaboration of an international charitable nonprofit organization called iCanShine and local organizations, in this specific case, the Miracle League of CT. The adaptive biking equipment is supplied by iCanShine, and the organization also sends two representatives to facilitate the week-long camp, Michaud explained.
The Miracle League of CT received a grant from the Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskin Robbins Joy in Childhood Foundation, which made the iCanBike program in West Hartford possible. The grant will also sponsor the program in East Lyme and Milford later in the summer. The West Hartford program was also offered in partnership with the Department of Leisure Services.
Michaud explained that the iCanBike program fills up very fast, and people travel from all over just for this camp. This summer one of the campers in the West Hartford iCanBike camp was from Massachusetts, Michaud said.
Though the adaptive equipment is provided by iCanBike, the campers eventually end up on their own family bikes, Michaud said. With about a 80-85 percent success rate, most campers leave on Friday able to independently ride their own two-wheeler.
“It’s amazing that in less than seven hours of total training time, they’re learning to ride a bike,” Michaud said.
This success would not be possible without the help of up to 100 volunteers, Michaud also said. Each rider has two volunteers who run alongside the bike for the majority of the 75 minute session. Many of the volunteers are students at Conard and Hall High Schools, and others are adults, including members of the West Hartford Fire Department.
“The volunteers are incredible,” Michaud said, especially for such an intensive program where the volunteers are expected to attend every session in order to establish consistency with each camper.
Liz Lengvinis, mom of iCanBike camper Matt, told We-Ha.com that Matt asked her if they could take his volunteers home with him once camp is over. “The volunteers are wonderful,” Lengvinis said.
This was Matt’s second time in the iCanBike program, Lengvinis explained. This summer, Matt was “much stronger, more confident, and without a doubt more successful,” Lengvinis said.
Though each camper received a medal and certificate to commemorate their success as the last session came to an end on Friday, the greatest takeaways from the iCanBike program are the biking abilities gained and the friendships made during the process.
Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford!