iCan Bike Camp through SANDS

October is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month.
Sonoran UCEDD interdisciplinary trainee, CJ Bruske, shares his volunteer experience with iCan Bike Camp put on by iCan Shine, Inc. and sponsored by the Southern Arizona Network for Down Syndrome (SANDS) as part of his community reflections portfolio for our undergraduate certificate in developmental disabilities.
Learn  more about CJ and our other trainees: Meet Our Trainees

by Christopher "CJ" Bruske
Sonoran UCEDD Trainee

I decided to get started on the portfolio aspect of the certificate pretty quickly as I found myself in Tucson for the summer. I had somewhat ironically just gotten back from mountain biking with my roommate, when I received an email about the iCan Bike Camp. It felt like fate as I had just gotten back from enjoying one of my favorite activities, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to help children with Down syndrome also experience one of the great joys in life.

After orientation, I still felt very unprepared in assisting the riders to successfully control their bikes. I remembered my own experience learning to ride a bike and the struggle of falling down over, over, and over again. When I first arrived to the first of five days, I was met with eager families that had already arrived thirty minutes early. The apprehension I had about bikes was relieved when I observed the rollers on the back on the bike and the way they prevented the kids from falling off while learning. I was introduced to my rider, Bentley, who immediately wanted to hop on the bike and could not have cared less about who was going to help him. I luckily had worn my athletic shoes, as I immediately learned how hard it is to run next to a bike when your rider is as eager as Bentley was. Quickly, his bike was called into the “shop” to get fixed up (his bike’s roller was replaced with a more narrow one which was not revealed to the riders to prevent any apprehension about less balance). In the meantime, Bentley got a water break and danced to his favorite song that he requested to be played every day at least five times.

All of the riders did not have such immediate success as Bentley did. Some of them were on their bikes at least by the end of the first day with their feet on the pedals, but one rider specifically was unable to get their feet on the pedals until the third day without screaming. Every family member that was there supported each rider; with each lap around the warehouse, every rider was met with cheers and words of encouragement. Even though every child was on a different level, there was a sense that everyone was working towards the same goal, which created the positive environment necessary for every rider to be successful. 

As the week progressed, Bentley was able to ride his own bike that had been brought from home, which he had been eagerly awaiting. The only issue was that the day prior, he had his first serious spill. He was on a regular bike with just a handle bar for me to assist while he rode and had taken a turn too confidently. As I had been taught, I started to compliment how awesome of a fall it was, making sure he didn’t sense that I was secretly freaking out inside. He got right back on the bike, but I could tell he wasn’t the same. Because of this, the last day was the most difficult one, as he constantly would call for me to hold onto him. Luckily with determination and some tough love from his mother, we worked through it and by the end of the day, he had to be pulled off of the bike to go home.

This camp was valuable to the riders because each one of them left with a greater sense of self-confidence and understanding of their abilities. The radiant smiles on their faces when a medal was bestowed upon them showed just how much the camp had meant to them. For those with disabilities, especially in their younger years, it is crucial that they believe they are able to participate in what other kids their age do. Riding a bike is a milestone in every child’s life, and iCan Bike ensured that all of the riders were able to as well. The amount of tears that were shed by parents watching their children succeed at riding a bike also proved how impactful the week was for the families. For Bentley, he was able to finally ride around with his siblings and not feel left out anymore. His mother no longer had to tell him that he had to use his training wheels and he took a great step in gaining his own independence.

CJ and Bentley smilingIt was an amazing week in that I feel like so much was accomplished in just five one hour and a half days. I have a new friend in Bentley, and a new understanding of the challenges that those who have disabilities face while growing up. As the week went on, I know we had made a connection, as he trusted me enough to bike without me constantly behind him. I felt blessed to share the moment with his family for the week, and even was offered to come over and ride bikes at their home. I also learned that his father is a pediatric doctor that specializes in kids with disabilities, and that I was welcome to talk to him about his career path whenever I wanted.

I also was able to make it into the Tucson news and be featured in pictures with Bentley. His outgoing nature immediately stole the show and the best of him came out when the camera was on him.

Check out more photos of Bentley, me and other iCan Bike Camp participants: http://tucson.com/news/local/photos-i-can-bike-camp-teaches-kids-and-adults-to/collection_8c2fa8be-52f1-11e7-864c-832c78f43e8e.html#1

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