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Bike First! in the news

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Giving kids a first on two wheels

By Liz Blodgett, News Editor
March 19, 2019

Bike riding is one of the many childhood stepping stones that most people have taken. However, many adults, teens, and children with disabilities don’t know how to ride a bike, or even have the skills to. Bike First is a way that these individual can learn the skills to ride a bike.

Ann Donaca-Sullivan started this program 14 years ago when her son, Cody Sullivan, wanted to ride his bike with his friends. Realizing that typical bike riding methods wouldn’t teach Cody to ride a bike, Ann found adapted bikes which help teach the skills needed to ride a typical bike. Since then, Bike First has grown to where it is today. Each year, the program allows many children with various disabilities with the ability to ride a two wheel bike by the end of the week.

“Bike First! Opens eyes to the importance of providing healthy robust lives for everyone,” Sullivan said.

Each of the volunteers gets to experience Bike First! in different ways. Some volunteers are running right behind the biker, making sure that the biker is stable and biking at a safe pace. Others  are running in front of the biker to keep them engaged and show them where to ride. Others are on the sidelines cheering on the bikers as they ride by.

Clackamas Community College student Noah Kurzenhauser has been volunteering at Bike First! for four years now.

“At the end of the day, it boils down to ‘inclusion’”, Kurzenhauser said. “So often the kids want to learn so they can bike with their friends during summer break without training wheels or join their family on bike rides. It’s the concept of normalcy, really,”

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ABI’s Bike First cyclists take summer for a spin during Bike Week 2015

It was a week of triumph and achievement for the 52 aspiring cyclists enrolled in NWDSA: Bike First! and Quick Start! / Refresher Clinics. For the tenth year running, NWDSA’s Bike First! week-long clinic brought smiles to the faces of the riders, volunteers, parents and guardians alike. Cyclists of all ages and abilities made excellent progress developing the skills needed to ride typical two-wheeler bicycles.

The spirit of the community and inclusion rang loudly throughout the week as 45 outstanding volunteers contributed their time, energy, and compassion.

Thank you to Original Joes and Boomers BBQ for lunch each day (they’ve been with us for ten years!), Concordia University for donating the use of the gymnasium (eight years!), Multnomah Athletic Foundation (eight years!) and Safe Routes to Schools (seven years!).

Read more about 2015 Bike Week at www.cu-portland.edu/about/life-fast-lane

Learning to ride a bike builds confidence for disabled kids

Mason couldn’t seem to get the hang of riding a bike.

“He was using training wheels, and every time I raised them, he wouldn’t ride,” said his father, Jeff Frenzel.

Frenzel heard about a program in Portland called Bike First, that helps kids with Down syndrome, like 15-year-old Mason, learn how to ride. Father and son traveled from Albany and lived in a hotel during week-long clinic at Concordia University in Northeast Portland last week. On the first day, Mason did really well. Tuesday was not so good, but by Wednesday he was up on two wheels. “Tears were flowing down my cheeks,” Frenzel said.

And by Friday, Mason was wheeling around the former tennis court outside the gymnasium like he’s been riding for years. The Bike First program was launched six years ago by Concordia Professor Ann Donaca to help her son, who has Down syndrome.

“Cody was 10 years old and weighed 100 pounds,” Donaca said. “He wanted to ride, but he couldn’t do it.”

She read an article about an organization called Lose the Training Wheels, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit devoted to helping disabled kids ride bikes. “I couldn’t bring Cody to the camp, so I brought the camp here,” Donaca said. She formed a Portland affiliate and attracted sponsors such as River City Bicycles and Multnomah Athletic Foundation.

The camp is always held the first week after school lets out. Volunteers, many from local high schools or recent graduates, work with the kids. Each session includes eight students and goes for 75 minutes. With five sessions a day, that works out to about 240 kids since 2006.

“We have a 97 percent success rate,” said Hillary Dodge, a 16-year-old Grant High School junior who has been volunteering at the camp for five years. “Kids with autism or Down syndrome have balance problems,” Dodge said. “What takes a typical kid two hours, they take a week.”

But they get there, with special bikes and a lot of support and encouragement. “It’s impressive what kids can do,” said Elliot Vaughn, a recent Wilson High School graduate.

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