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Special Needs Bike Camp Helps Kids Ride On Two Wheels

Aug 10, 2015 11:38AM ● By Bryan Scott

Bike Riding

By Aimee L. Cook

South Valley - Most parents celebrate and document life’s milestones with their children and move on to the next, almost taking for granted that tying a shoe or riding a bike is a skill set that not all children naturally possess. For parents of a child with special needs, not only is every milestone celebrated, but many become defining moments. 

Sally and Steve Palmer, parents to 16-year-old Elijah, a young man with autism, has enjoyed many milestones over the years, but riding a bike seemed to be one that eluded them. That is until Steve came across I Can Shine, a non-profit organization that has developed a program for kids of all abilities to ride a bike. As part of the program, they have modified bikes that have rollers on the back, providing better balance. By the end of the program, the goal is to remove the rollers and the child is riding a regular bike. Unfortunately, they did not have an existing program in Utah, so the Palmers decided to create one. 

“Our son Elijah was the team manager for the Corner Canyon High School mountain bike team; it is the largest team in the country,” Steve said. “He would pass out numbers at the different events around the state and attend practices. At the end of the year, the director of the Utah Mountain Bike Association said she would like him to ride with the team in the fall. We had to find a way to teach him how to ride a bike.”

With the help of 80 volunteers, donors and 40 special needs riders and their parents who wanted to learn to ride a bike, Palmer made the commitment, both monetarily and in time, and held the first special needs bike camp in Utah, called “Ride to New Heights” in June. Eighty percent of the kids who participated learned how to ride a bike, including Elijah. 

“We plan to hold the camp every year,” said Palmer. “Even though our son can ride now, it was a special experience and an emotional one for all the kids that learned. There is such a benefit from learning how to ride a bike; it can provide transportation and, of course, has health benefits.”

The Utah High School Cycling League is on board as well. They have created a race for special needs riders called “Elevate” that will take place in August at Soldier Hollow and in September at Corner Canyon. They are helping to promote inclusivity within high school and team sports.  

“We are providing the kids an opportunity to ride outside of the bike camp and to use the skills they learned while riding with their peers,” said Rachel Warner, program director for the league. “All we ask is that the riders are familiar with the bike; we can provide assistance if needed. The kids will represent their home team  or school team. Our vision is to enable every Utah teen in strength of body, mind and character through the lifelong sport of cycling. Our focus is to provide them with a life-changing experience.”