Bellarmine physical therapy program helps children with disabilities learn to ride bikes

August 14, 2018

Students and faculty in Bellarmine University's doctor of physical therapy program helped 23 children with disabilities learn how to ride bikes last week.

The weeklong iCan Bike camp on Bellarmine's campus was offered to families at no charge, in collaboration with the international nonprofit iCan Shine organization and funded in part by a grant from the WHAS Crusade for Children.

One of those new bike riders was Jordan, a 12 year old with autism.

"I am overwhelmed at the success of this program," said his grandmother, Donna McGraw. "The progression where they take them from the bikes with no wheels to the tandem - I just can't believe it. I never in my wildest dreams thought in a week's time he would be riding a bicycle. I just want to thank them for reaching out and doing this for us, because without this, Jordan wouldn't be riding a bike."

Dr. Beth Ennis, associate professor of physical therapy, said the program is as valuable for her students as it is for the children, because they're getting practical experience in helping people develop their abilities that they'll use throughout their careers.

"For our students and other volunteers, the chance to help a child develop this skill is an amazing experience," she said. "By mid- to end-of-the-week, many are riding without support and our volunteers get to be a part of that development!"

At the end of the week, the participants - ages 8 to 19 - receive a medal recognizing their achievement.

"Children with a diagnosis often are isolated from their neurotypical peers, especially in activities that involve mobility, endurance and speed," said Ennis. "I have parents and guardians who tell me how sad it is when their child can’t keep up with those in the neighborhood. We try to provide programs that encourage inclusion and participation in life activities, and riding a bike for a child who can walk is one of those childhood activities. As these children grow into young adults, safe cycling can also provide a means of transportation."

Ennis said the physical therapy program previously offered the iCan Bike program nine years ago, and they're planning to raise funds so they can offer it again next year. She also organizes her program's Go Baby Go service project, where volunteers modify motorized toy cars into mobility tools for young children with disabilities. 

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