Freedom. Joy. Belonging. These are all words that come to mind when we see a child cruise past on a bicycle. But for thousands of children in the county with serious physical, mental and sensory disabilities, the same scene can be just another reminder of their own personal limitations.
“There’s a sense of joy that comes with riding a bike of your own,” says Zachary Marsh, community relations manager at Wexford-based Variety the Children’s Charity. “Unfortunately these kids have never experienced that feeling and Variety saw this as a real need for families raising children with disabilities.”
Working with Rifton Equipment and Blackburn’s Medical Equipment, Variety’s My Bike program builds the perfect custom bike for every child—no matter what their needs. “Most of our kids aren’t able to ride a two-wheeled bike,” says Marsh. “But we can build exactly the accessories and adaptations they need to ride safely and successfully.” Adaptations include handlebars, modified seats, security features and more. “When they get on that bike for the first time, our kids discover the possibilities of their own lives.”
Since the My Bike program started in 2012, Variety has distributed more than 750 free custom-built bikes to local children, including Jacob Buchheit, an 18-year old Carrick boy diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a toddler. “After the rest of our family got bikes, Jacob was so upset that he wasn’t able to join in with us,” says Evan Buchheit, Jacob’s 20-year old brother. “This was something that we were all doing together, but he couldn’t be a part of it.”
The My Bike program was able to outfit Buchheit with the perfect ride to fit his needs. “We were all really excited that he would have the opportunity to ride with us,” says Evan. “Just the simple fact that he can do this by himself when we’ve had to help him with everything else. He can do it 100%. Steer himself. Hit the brakes. He’s very appreciative of that sort of independence.”
Three years after the program began, the Variety team could not have predicted how great an impact it would have on families and the community as a whole. “It creates a sense of belonging,” Marsh says. “Kids get to feel like they belong with their families and friends. A family can finally go on a bike ride together and the neighborhood kids can now ask a child to join in when they go riding. Plus, it has helped other members of the community connect with the needs of these families. Everyone can get behind the idea of helping a child ride their own bicycle.”
Whether rolling on two wheels or three, the bikes make these connections possible—and that’s something that every kid needs.
Variety is currently seeking to identify 250 eligible children with disabilities. For more information on eligibility, visit here. And if you think your child or a child you know may be eligible, call 724-933-0460 or visit here for an application.
Featured photo: A happy cyclist, Photo courtesy of Variety