Learning to ride a bike is a rite of passage that can include a collection of scrapes, bumps and bruises for many children.
Achieving the freedom and confidence gained by gliding along unassisted on two wheels can be much more daunting for kids with physical or cognitive challenges.
Fortunately, the therapists and volunteers who work at the iCan Shine bike camp specialize in imparting those skills, much to the delight of the children taking part.
The program has been a great experience for Langford resident Laura Moore and her son, Caleb, 7. He hasn’t let a severe neuro-muscular disorder stop him from getting the hang of handling a two-wheeler.
“He looks forward to it every morning,” said Moore, who heard about the program from Caleb’s physiotherapist. “He’s come a long way in a couple of days and just loves the volunteers.”
Caleb, anxious to get back in the saddle during a break in training, was quick to concur. “I like it a lot,” said the Savory elementary student.
The iCan Shine camp, which ran July 6 to 10 at Pearkes Recreation Centre in Saanich, accommodates about 40 kids divided into groups of eight for five sessions a day.
The program, which has been around since 2008, starts the children on bikes with flat, stabilizing rollers attached to the back wheels, explained Sharon Stangeland, the camp’s director and an Island Health physiotherapist who provides consultative services for programs for school-age children.
“The rollers gradually become tapered and require the kids to use more balance with each change in the rollers,” she said. “The big benefit is the kids don’t have to process a lot of commands, because we have balance reactions hard-wired into our bodies. It’s a gradual progression and the kids don’t have to think about it, so you can see amazing improvements, even in one session.”
By the end of the week, most of the participants were riding outside on a regular bike.
The bicycles are suppled by iCan Shine, a non-profit U.S. organization that also provided two staff for the camp. Funding is made available through the Queen Alexandra Foundation, Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island and Island Health.
The volunteers who accompany the kids during the sessions are an integral part of the program’s success, Stangeland added. The dozen or so helpers are mostly high school graduates and university students interested in pursuing a career in physical education, physiotherapy and associated fields.
Cindy Kim, who was working with Caleb, is in her third year as a volunteer.
“You get a lot of valuable experience, and the kids and the parents are just awesome,” said the St. Michaels University School grad, who heads to the University of Victoria this fall to study biochemistry. “You also get to make friends with a great bunch of volunteers.”
Find out more about the program at icanshine.org/victoria-bc/ or for future camps, email Stangeland at Sharon.firstname.lastname@example.org.