Claire Kelly had a triumphant little smile and tears glistened in her mom’s eyes as the 11-year-old rode a two-wheeler on her own for the first time.
Experts had predicted that would never happen. But Claire and a special program called iCan Shine proved them wrong.
“It’s amazing,” said mom Catherine Kelly. “I can tell she’s proud of herself. We were told she’d never ride a bike independently and she has.”
Both beamed as Catherine helped her daughter, who has autism, get back on the bike.
Claire was one of 25 participants with disabilities at Clearwater Arena learning how to ride a conventional two-wheeler with iCan Shine. The international charity offers weeklong bike camps across North America.
iCan Shine’s technique involves trained staff who instill confidence, enthusiastic volunteers and patented machinery engineered at the University of Illinois. Rollers attached toward the back of each bike drag on the ground and create stability. As riders acquire better balance, the roller size is decreased until the roller is removed entirely.
The iCan Shine website says 80% of participants learn to ride on two wheels by the end of camp week.
“Biking is one of those life skills like swimming that parents want their children to do,” said Cindy Hughes, recreational therapist at Pathways Health Centre for Children.
Pathways hired iCan Shine and brought the camp to Sarnia.
“Riding a bike means confidence and independence,” said Hughes. “This helps give kids a boost if they struggle with a two-wheeler for whatever reason.”
Participants at last week’s camp had disabilities ranging from autism to Down syndrome to cerebral palsy.
Most were children along with a few adults.
Claire Kelly loved riding a bike with training wheels when she was younger, her mom said, but she lost interest when she couldn’t the balance without those training wheels.
“Riding a bike is a childhood rite of passage and it’s not as easy for some kids,” said Catherine Kelly.
She commended Pathways for bringing iCanShine to Sarnia.
“The progress I see in these kids is amazing,” she said. “I know Claire is really enjoying herself.”
iCan Shine is effective but pricey, said Hughes. It cost between $15,000 and $20,000 for the week. The GoodLife Kids Foundation and Sarnia Community Foundation covered a large portion and each camper paid $180.
“It’s expensive but it’s also priceless,” Hughes said. “Everyone at camp will try riding a two-wheeler before they leave. Most will succeed or at least gain more confidence.”
Claire Kelly gets a helping hand from Nicole Mancuzi outside of Clearwater Arena. Glenn Ogilvie