Rory Flynn wobbled, straightened, then peddled a two-wheeler bike around Murray’s Skating Center in Yonkers. It was his first time riding a two-wheeled bike.
“Oh my gosh he’s on two wheels,” the 11-year-old’s mother, Nora Flynn, said.
She stepped back and watched as her son pedaled, keeping his balance with help from a volunteer from iCan Shine Inc.
The nationwide organization runs the iCan Bike program each summer to teach kids with disabilities how to ride a bike. Children with autism, Down Syndrome or muscle disabilities are all eligible to enroll in the program. Kids from Scarsdale, Eastchester, Edgemont and Yonkers signed up to learn in the program that ran July 29 to Aug. 2.
Scarsdale High School rising junior Natalie Schonfeld was the host of the weeklong camp in Westchester.
Schonfeld has been involved with the program since last summer when she volunteered at an iCan Bike Camp in Massachusetts.
“It was so rewarding to help get these kids to bike on their own in a week,” she said.
One boy she helped to learn how to ride last summer “was so happy, and his family was also really happy,” she said. “It gives the kids a lot of freedom.”
Schonfeld’s experience at the camp inspired her to bring it to Westchester, a first for the county.
She reached out to the iCan Shine organization for information on how to make it happen and started looking for a place she could host the camp. Then she recruited volunteers to teach at the camp.
Schonfeld said there have been a number of generous parties involved.
“I really want to thank the city of Yonkers because they donated the space to us,” she said. “Also, Danny’s Cycles [on Central Avenue] helped get the bikes to the campers. We’ve also received generous donations from individuals.”
It took some time for Schonfeld to find the right space. She said most gyms couldn’t accommodate the camp, or the spaces were already booked for other activities. Other ice rinks didn’t have a polished cement floor, but the EJ Murray Memorial Skating Center was recently renovated and had polished cement.
Throughout the week, the kids were progressing well, according to Schonfeld. Several children started riding a two-wheeler bike by Wednesday, even though they had just started learning Monday.
“It’s so inspiring to see the kids and how much they’ve improved with their turning and pedaling,” she said.
Just as the children’s skill level improved, so did their confidence.
They start off on a roller bike, which helps balance the rider. As the rider gains more confidence and skill, the roller gets smaller until the rider can try riding a two-wheel bike.
Flynn has two sons in the biking program: Rory and his 9-year-old brother Colin.
Rory deals with developmental coordination disorder, a motor skills disorder that occurs when there is a delay in the development of motor skills, or difficulty coordinating movements.
Colin was anxious about failure, which made it difficult for him to learn how to ride a bike. His mother said he’s gained confidence and skill and was riding around the rink on his roller bike.
“Once he got a little confident, he said he was going to do it,” Flynn said.
Flynn said she tried teaching Rory how to ride a bike through a few different methods, including using training wheels, an occupational therapist and a physical therapist.
She heard about the iCan Bike program but couldn’t get her sons in because it was already full. After checking the website, she saw that the camp was coming to Westchester and she signed her boys up.
She said they both were skeptical about going to the camp. Colin didn’t crack a smile the first day. But by Wednesday, he was zooming around the rink with a big smile on his face.
“He’s so proud of himself,” she said. “He wanted me to videotape him and send it to everyone in the family.”
Because of the help Colin and Rory received, Flynn said her boys asked if they could bring their bikes on a family trip to the beach over the weekend.
“On the weekends, we ride back and forth to things, and someone is always walking with them,” Flynn said. “They’re excited that they’ll get to ride the bike.”
Kelly Barns, a bike technician for iCan Bike, got involved with the organization about five years ago as part of an internship. She said she’s seen kids gain confidence and is happy to be a part of it.
“We tell parents their rider will be riding by Friday,” she said. “A lot of times they’ve been trying for a really long time.”
A big part of what makes the magic happen is the roller bike.
As the rider becomes more confident, the fear disappears, peddling improves and the rider starts moving in the rollers, Barns said.
The iCan Bike Camp is offered all over the country and Barns encouraged interested parents to email email@example.com to get information about upcoming programs.