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Bicycle camp gives children confidence

Bicycle camp gives children confidence

August 11th, 2017 by Helen Wilbers in Local News

Kwadwo Wiredu, 10, gets encouragement Thursday from volunteers Bill Nigus and Channing Totta at the iCan Bike Camp in Fulton. By the end of the day, he was pedalling under his own steam for short stretches.

Photo by Helen Wilbers /Fulton Sun.

When Matthew Hoover emerged from the YMCA on his bike, wearing a Superman cape blowing behind him, the crowd went wild.

It was Hoover's fourth day at the iCan Bike Camp in Fulton. He'd just graduated from inside to outside — one step closer to independence.

"He's really scared but he's making such progress," Melissa Maxwell, the 8-year-old's mother, said. "They came up with the Superman shirt and cape. He had to ride 15 laps to get the shirt and 15 to get the cape."

Volunteers at iCan Bike Camp often get creative to motivate participants. The program, organized in Fulton by Nancy Hanson, helps people with disabilities learn to ride on their own. It's now in its second year.

The participants — mostly children — start on a weighted bike with a wide roller for a back wheel. As they gain confidence, they switch to a bike with a handle a volunteer can hold. By the end of the week, most are riding a two-wheeled bike on their own.

"I think that this session, we're going to get all of them on two wheels," Hanson said.

She started the Fulton camp after her daughter, Shelby, attended an iCan Bike Camp in St. Louis. Seeing the confidence and independence Shelby gained made her want to share the experience with other people, Hanson said.

Brandon Heichelbech's grandparents were on the sideline watching as the 8-year-old rounded the parking lot.

"His parents had been working with him (Brandon) without much luck," Mike Cunningham said. "He'd get scared and some of the kids were making fun of him."

But now, he said, Heichelbech asked them to come watch.

"It means so much for Brandon's self-esteem, his confidence," Chris Heichelbech, his mother, said. "It's another tool for (interacting with) his peers."

Charles Wiredu brought his two sons, Kwame and Kwadwo, to the camp after seeing a flier at their school.

"(The opportunity) is a lot, because I don't know how to bike, so I don't know how to teach them," he said. "They may not be able to drive a car, so this may be their (means) of transportation."

He said, he'd surprise the boys with their own new bikes today.

"It helps boost their confidence to do things by themselves," Wiredu said.

The riders weren't the only ones benefiting from the camp. Volunteers got a workout while running after the riders — and, Alane Gronefeld thinks, learned some valuable lessons as well.

"For the volunteers, they're really making a difference, whether they realize it or not," Gronefeld said. "It teaches the young volunteers tolerance and patience, and how to work with special needs kids."

Volunteers have to be relentlessly cheerful and energetic while convincing the riders to overcome their fears. They must steer errant bikes away from collisions and help the riders get up after a tumble. They also deal with the occasional meltdown from a frustrated or tired biker.

But for many, it's worth it.

A.J. Ballard's younger brother attended the camp last year. This year, Ballard is back as a volunteer.

"I fell in love with the whole thing and what they're doing," Ballard said. "They're just the sweetest kids on Earth."

Plus, there are the moments of pure joy when a biker finally takes off on his or her own.

"When they get it, there's just nothing like it," said Bill Nigus, a volunteer and the pastor of the church Hanson attends. "I saw some things that were hard not to tear up about."

Learn more about the program at icanshine.org and facebook.com/icanbikefulton.