A Boy Riding a Bike, Not a Boy With a Disability
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
It was 8:30 am on a Saturday, the time most students are in bed before waking up to start yet another day of cramming origins and insertions, goniometric normative values, or hip extensor strengthening progressions into their heads. I drove onto the deserted California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) campus, parked a little crooked in the annoyingly straight parking space, and like a zombie, made my way to the east gym where a SoCal Trykers bike giveaway event was going to be held later that morning. My sleepiness gradually wore off as a few classmates and I were quickly thrown into unloading adaptive bikes, called AmTrykes®, and setting up registration tables and cones for an indoor race track.
As 10:00 am rolled around, several families of children with special needs, including children with diagnoses of cerebral palsy and Down syndrome, started to arrive. Each family was anxious and excited to see the bikes that their child and/or sibling had waited patiently to receive after months of dreaming, working, and fundraising.
One of the first families to arrive caught my eye as they walked with another DPT student into the gym. I saw the parents' faces as they watched a volunteer physical therapist from SoCal Trykers help their young daughter onto a bike, making adjustments as needed so that everything fit just right (eg, lowering the seat height, raising the lateral trunk supports, and fastening the straps attached to the pedals). The little girl's posture changed almost instantly under the support provided by the adaptive bike seat, and I watched tears roll down the mother's face as she took pictures of her smiling daughter sitting independently in her bike. Observing this family, I began to realize how important an AmTryke® was for this family. To them it was more than an item to store in the garage, it was a form of mobility, a means of increasing strength and movement, and a way to be active with other kids her daughter's age in the community. The bike represented opportunity. And it was FUN.
Kathy Newton and her son Cooper, beloved members of the SoCal Trykers family and owners of an AmTryke®, described their experience since receiving the bike about a year ago: "When Cooper is on his bike, people see a boy riding a bike first not a boy with a disability. The bike breaks down the barrier of difference and people interact with him more freely....The bike gives him freedom and pleasure to see life from a different view…other than his adaptive chair. The bike has strengthened his core and leg muscles....[He] has become more flexible because he is working muscles in a different way or muscles that are not always used." Many families like Cooper's benefit from the SoCal Trykers organization, since beginning its relationship with CSULB.
The students in the CSULB physical therapy program decided several years ago that they wanted to give back to the community in a way that allowed them to utilize the skills they had learned in school. With the support of the faculty, the students reached out to SoCal Trykers, a local chapter of the national, nonprofit organization American Business Clubs (AMBUCS), that has been operating within the Southern California communities since 2013. The bike giveaway was one of several events held at the CSULB campus with SoCal Trykers, which to date have ranged from bike evaluations to bike builds and giveaways, on a semimonthly basis. The CSULB campus was gracious enough to offer free parking, amenities, and use of the building, and the physical therapy department showed support by sending staff members to volunteer alongside the students. The bikes were funded through the efforts of SoCal Trykers and local charities, including the Christopher Reeve Foundation and Trial Lawyers Charities.
It was ultimately the coming together of these organizations and individuals that allowed several children with varying degrees of motor involvement to take home their very own bikes, each riding off with huge smiles on their faces. As I walked back to my car following the giveaway, I realized that I, too, had a smile on my face. I was energized and had a renewed excitement for my future profession and the effect physical therapists can have on children like the ones I met earlier that day. I laughed at myself as I reached my car and realized how truly crooked it was parked, got in and drove away, ready to get back to studying for class.
The AmTrykes® fitted and built by SoCal Trykers are a nationally established part of AMBUCS since 1995. These therapeutic tricycles can be hand or foot operated, and offer extreme adaptability to children and adults with disabilities who are otherwise unable to ride traditional bicycles. Now with 144 chapters under the AMBUCS organization in 33 states, more than 30,000 of these unique bikes have been given to individuals with special needs throughout the United States!
Interested in the program and want to get involved with bringing these bikes to families in your area? Here's what to do:
- Locate your local chapter. Go to www.ambucs.org/join/chapter-directory and type in your city or zip code.
- Contact the president of the program nearest you. The website above will give you access to the website and contact information. Ask how you can volunteer or donate.
- Engage. Don't just go and observe. Use your time volunteering as a learning experience and a chance to put some of the things you've learned in the classroom into action! This is an opportunity to get involved with seasoned physical therapists and get to know families that understand the importance of movement and participation. Engage with them and they will engage with you!
Devan Stiles, SPT, CSU Long Beach, APTA class representative, California student SIG liaison. You can find Devan on Twitter at @DevStiles. Photography by Nikki Miller, SPT, CSU Long Beach. You can find Nikki on Twitter at @NikkiMillerSPT.