Jordon Wood beamed as he rode around in a circle on a trainer bike guided by two volunteers July 16 during the Bellarmine University iCan Bike Camp for children with disabilities.
The 11-year-old born with Down syndrome was one of about 40 children and young adults who took part in the five-day camp July 12-16 on the university’s Newburg Road campus.
Jordan’s mother, Leanna Wood, sat on the sideline cheering and beaming, as well. Her son doesn’t have the verbal and social skills of a typical 11-year-old and struggles to fit in with other children, she said. At large gatherings where there are other children, he will usually sit in a corner.
“He doesn’t have the social skills to join in and the other kids don’t know how to interact with him,” she said. “For him to be able to take part in something is wonderful.”
The bike camp is sponsored by Bellarmine University’s School of Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences and the WHAS Crusade for Children in collaboration with iCan Shine, an international non-profit whose mission is to teach individuals with disabilities to ride a conventional two-wheel bike.
The camp caters to those with a variety of disabilities, including Down syndrome, autism, mild cerebral palsy and mild brain injury. Bellarmine first offered it in 2009, but a lack of funding caused it to stall.
In 2018, the Crusade started funding the camp and, since then, it’s been offered every year, said Dr. Beth Ennis, an associate professor in the university’s School of Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences.
Though the camp aims to teach young people with disabilities how to ride a bike, “It’s more than just riding a bike,” Ennis said.
The camp helps some gain social skills and others become better at playing on the playground because of the improved balance and coordination they gain.
“For some, it’s faster than they’ve ever moved before,” said Ennis. “For older kids, it may be a means of transportation” because their disability may not allow them to drive a car when they are adults.
The campers have to be at least 8 years old and able to walk independently. The oldest camper this year was a 27-year-old.
iCan Shine provides the equipment and instruction at the camp with the help of volunteers. The organization offers camps in 32 states and four provinces in Canada each year, said Kaitlyn Schmidt, who serves as a floor supervisor for the non-profit.
“We want to foster and create an environment where each rider can shine and fulfill their potential,” said Schmidt during an interview on the last day of the camp. “It’s really cool. “Through the course of the week, you see that newfound confidence” which they take and use to accomplish other things, said Schmidt. “They feel they can do anything they set their mind to.”
The campers begin the camp week on a “roller bike,” outfitted with a wide rolling-pin-like wheel in place of a typical back wheel to help riders learn to balance. When they’ve gained enough balance, they progress to a tandem bike and ride along with an iCan Shine staff member.
Later in the week, campers who are ready move up to a two-wheel bike equipped with a tall grab bar on the back that allows volunteers to guide them, said Schmidt. The campers started their training indoors and moved outdoors as they gained skills.
Schmidt said about 80 percent of campers learn how to ride a regular bike by the end of the week.
Though Jordon was still riding a trainer bike at the end of the camp, his mother left feeling confident that with some practice at home he’d soon be riding a regular bike without training wheels.
“They explain things really well … what to work on when we get home,” she said.
To learn more about the iCan Bike camp, click here.