MARQUETTE - Learning to ride a bike without training wheels is a big accomplishment for any kid, and a biking camp for kids and adults with disabilities such as Autism, Down Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy is giving a chance to ride along with their friends and family.
The Lose The Training Wheels camp, sponsored by the Special Education Parent Advisory Committee, took place this week at the Superior Dome, teaching participants how to ride a two wheel bike.
"The number one thing is to be able to play with their peers," said Karin Hansard, chair of SEPAC. "A lot of these riders will never have a drivers license. It's transportation."
Kylie Rauvala, 12, of Laurium, takes off on a two-wheeled bike as floor supervisor Kevin Crenshaw raises his hands above his head to show she is riding completely on her own. A camp held this week helped 18 children and adults with disabilities learn to ride a bike without training wheels. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
The camp is a national program which travels throughout the United States and Canada, traveling with a trailer full of specialized bicycles and two personnel - a floor supervisor and a bike technician.
The bikes are similar to a typical two-wheeled cycle, however the back wheel is replaced with a tapered roller. All riders start out with a relatively flat roller, then progressing to rollers that are increasingly tapered toward the center, forcing the riders to develop a sense of balance and preparing them for balancing on two wheels.
Each rider attends the camp for a week, each day riding for a 75 minute session with the help of a volunteer or two who run or walk alongside the bikes, giving pointers for things like turning and braking.
Riders also got the chance to try out a special tandem bike, which allowed a volunteer to ride along with the rider, helping them steer and get the feel of riding a two-wheeler. The camp has over a 90 percent success rate.
Wednesday of the camp is usually known as "Launch Day" when many of the riders get to graduate to a true two-wheeled bike.
Floor supervisor Kevin Crenshaw or the volunteers start off by running along beside the bike, helping the rider balance with a special handle built into the bike. Before long, though, the riders are balancing on their own.
"Good," said rider Kylie Rauvala, 12, of Laurium, with a huge smile after she successfully completed a circuit of the Dome for the first time on a two-wheeler. "I got the hang of it."
Parents certainly agree.
"It gives them more confidence," said Rauvala's mother Sandy.
Building confidence is a big benefit of the program.
"What I used to be an 'I can't' suddenly turns into an 'I can,'" Crenshaw said. "It's a neat transition."
A participant of one of the camps Crenshaw has supervised used her new confidence on a bike to move onto other areas like swimming.
"They can participate in bike rides with their families and friends," Crenshaw said.
This year's camp had 18 participants, but can accommodate up to 40, Hansard said.
In addition to growing their self-confidence, learning to ride a bike also helps develop decision-making skills through learning when to brake or turn, she said.
"The bottom line is they have fun," Hansard said.
The camp is planned again for next year, although a date has not yet been set. For more information, visit losethetrainingwheelsmqt.org.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is email@example.com.