Hundreds of brand-new, custom bikes are hitting the trails in Pennsylvania, and their owners are filled with enthusiasm and vigor. No, they don’t belong to the racing team from the local bike shop, but the owners are just as passionate, if not more so.
Instead of carbon fiber frames and feather-light components, these bikes have three wheels, comfortable seats and specialized handlebars. The owners of these new bikes are children with disabilities, and the bikes are designed specifically to meet their needs while offering new opportunities for personal mobility.
For the past two years, the Pittsburgh, Pa.-based nonprofit, Variety the Children’s Charity, has been running “My Bike,” an initiative that provides customized, adaptive bicycles to children with disabilities. The program’s impact has been incredible; since its inception, My Bike has distributed more than 650 adaptive bikes to participants! The program recently expanded to West Virginia, and program coordinators have their sights on expanding the program further still!
The success of the “My Bike” program reflects an intense amount of support from the surrounding communities. Adaptive bicycles come with a substantial price tag, but according to Zach Marsh, community relations manager for Variety, enthusiasm and contributions from local residents have bolstered the strength of the initiative. “The [response] to the ‘My Bike’ program has been overwhelmingly positive; the community has really wrapped their arms around [it],” Marsh affirms. “It’s inspiring!”
The freedom granted by a new bike is felt by both the program recipients and their families, who say that these bikes are more than just machines; for many, the adaptive bike is a tool to achieve things much greater, including mobility, freedom and access to new places and experiences. It is the opportunity to share experiences together that people value about the bikes, explains Marsh, adding that the bikes open doors to families that they never expected. “A parent doesn’t have to stay behind with one child, and siblings can ride together for the first time,” he says. “It changes the experience for everyone in a really positive way.”
Take ten-year-old James Hogue, for example, who received his bike in March 2013. Since then, James and his sister Krissy ride together, and Krissy couldn’t be more happy about it! “The day that I rode bikes with my brother for the first time was one of the most amazing days of my life,” says Krissy. “It may be the very best day ever!”
Once the bike is granted, what’s next?
Many families that are part of the “My Bike” program have great options in close proximity to their homes, thanks to the hundreds of miles of rail-trails and multi-use trails that have been built around the Keystone State. And according to Marsh, for a lot of those families, they’re the first places they go.
“Trails provide safe places where parents and children feel comfortable,” says Marsh. “Traffic is not a concern, the trails have very little gradient to them, and the level surfaces are great for kids who are building new muscles from the new activity.”
Marsh is inspired by the enthusiasm and gratitude of the “My Bike” recipients with which he works.
“Personal mobility is often taken for granted,” he says. “But working with these wonderful kids, I’m reminded daily how much it means to each and every one of us.”
The first bicycle ever granted through the “My Bike” program went to Aubrey in Pennsylvania. Her excitement during her first ride is contagious! Check out this video of her first ride on her new set of wheels.
You can learn more about the “My Bike” program at varietypittsburgh.org.