A group of dedicated volunteers and staff are teaching children with exceptionalities the most fundamental staple of childhood: how to ride a bicycle.
The iCan Bike camp, held at Constantine Arena, combines adapted bicycles with specialized technical instruction from trained staff and volunteers in order to teach children with exceptionalities to independently ride a conventional two-wheel bicycle.
Over the course of five 75-minute sessions, campers get one-on-one instruction as adaptive aids are gradually removed from the bicycles in order to challenge their quickly developing senses of balance and confidence.
Campers range from ages eight to 16 and live with exceptionalities from autism spectrum disorder to Down syndrome to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Nancy Pike is a recreation therapist at Kids Inclusive, an organization that provides rehabilitation and support services for youth with physical, neurological and/or developmental exceptionalities.
She helped to bring the iCan Shine organization to Kingston and works closely with the children and volunteers at iCan Bike.
“I believe that to have quality of life, you need to be able to participate in recreation and leisure,” Pike said in an interview with the Whig-Standard.
Pike said the ability to ride a bicycle is critical for several reasons.
“It builds self-confidence, allows them to participate with their peers in recreation, and allows the family structure to grow stronger as those families can now go on bike rides together,” she said.
Pike also emphasized that for many of the campers, the bicycle will be their primary mode of transportation as they grow. Being able to master the skill will therefore allow them to access a lot more of the world around them.
She said that working at the camp is an extremely rewarding experience.
“It’s so fun to see them come in on Monday, they’re kind of nervous, and then on Friday, their confidence is built, they’re able to do things they couldn’t do on Monday,” she said.
Now in its third year in Kingston, the camp is affiliated and administered by iCan Shine, an international non-profit organization based in the United States that works to provide learning opportunities in recreational activities for youth with exceptionalities. Annually, the organization conducts more than 100 five-day camps serving nearly 3,000 people in 35 states and Canada. According to its website, since its founding in 2007, iCan Shine has successfully taught more than 20,000 youth with exceptionalities to ride a conventional two-wheel bicycle.
The value of the camp’s technical instruction and individual interaction is apparent in speaking with the campers and their families.
Dawn Young’s 11-year-old daughter, Hannah, is one of the campers at iCan Bike. Hannah has ADHD and anxiety issues, and delays in her development have caused significant complications with her sense of balance.
Young said the family has tried and failed many times to teach Hannah how to ride a bike. The experience has been discouraging at times.
“As a family, we are not able to take bike rides together,” Young said. “There have been times where her peers have gone for bike rides and she can’t participate in that.”
Thankfully, the iCan Bike camp has provided the opportunity and the resources for Hannah to overcome this obstacle.
“When I found out about this program, she was quite excited because it’s going to help her be able to spend more time with her peers, doing things they enjoy,” Young said.
But the opportunities for learning and growth extend beyond the bicycle. Young said the camp has had a positive effect on Hannah’s mood and self-image.
“She was extremely excited to get up today and come to the program. She’s feeling much more confident,” Young stated.
The development in Hannah’s abilities is visible. On only her third day, she was whizzing around the arena on a bike with no stabilizers, leaving a volunteer huffing and puffing trying to keep up with her.
When interviewed herself, Hannah said she loves the camp, she’s having a lot fun, and she plans to go on many more bike rides once she has mastered the skill.
Donor support for this year’s camp came from Royal Canadian Legion Branch 560, the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation, the GoodLife Kids Foundation, and the Johnson, Johnston and Macrae Investment Group at CIBC Wood Gundy through the Miracle Day Campaign.
A significant portion of support also comes from the Kingston Military Family Resource Centre, an organization that provides support for military members and their families through health and wellness programs, counselling, and personal and professional development. The centre provides financial support for iCan Bike via an annual $5,000 donation from Royal Canadian Legion 560. Additionally, the centre helps recruit volunteers and provides two special needs inclusion workers who work hands-on at the camp.
In this sense, iCan Bike is really a joint community effort that brings together contributions from different programs and organizations in order to provide a life-changing experience.