Lose the Training Wheels

Earlier this summer Aaron and Mary turned me on to a blog called Hyperbole and a Half, which consists of pretty funny comics that I can relate to.  For example, check out this post, which says a lot about my life these days.

An appropriately timed post popped up at the end of last week.  The author, Allie, writes about her bad experiences with bikes--a couple of crashes--that terrified her and made her a kid who didn't ride a bike.  This is appropriately timed because this week, all week, I am having the amazing opportunity to volunteer with a camp called Lose the Training Wheels.  Allie's text introducing the picture on the left says, "While all my friends were riding their awesome bikes around town making badass motorcycle noises and popping mad wheelies, I was the weird kid running behind them, trying but failing to maintain some semblance of dignity."  It's basically this experience that Lose the Training Wheels is designed to challenge.

It's a camp for kids with disabilities--often cognitive disabilities--who don't ride bikes.  The statistics are pretty grim:  between 10 and 20% of kids with Down syndrome and autism ride bikes.  The rest don't know how.  The ideology behind LTTW is that, if provided with encouragement, time, and appropriate support, almost all kids can learn to ride a two-wheeled bike, and they have an 85% success rate with a one-week camp.

This week I'm working with a thirteen-year-old kid named Jesse.  Another woman and I are his team, running around the warehouse space with him as he rides, helping him to steer and stop, motivating him to keep going.  The equipment for the bikes is pretty interesting--each bike's back "tire" is the size and shape of a paint roller, which keeps the bike from flipping, and they switch out the rollers so that they're more and more tapered as the bikers get more skilled.  All the bikes have handles on the back for help from the team.  But what's far more interesting than the equipment is the experience of working with Jesse.

Jesse has Down syndrome, so he has low muscle tone.  It also takes him a little longer than a typical kid to process all the new information coming his way kinesthetically and cognitively from the bike camp.  In other words, he has to work his ass off.  But he's done it now for two camp sessions--biking around the warehouse again and again for 75 minutes each day.  At the end of the first session, I told his mom how well he'd done.  She said, "That's really great considering how terrified he was of bikes."  He hadn't let on to us that he was scared.  When we asked initially if he was excited, he said, "Maybe."  He was pretty quiet for the first part of the camp, but he warmed up to us and the process as the session went on, until by the end he was saying "Super fast!" and, as Allie says above, "Making badass motorcycle noises."  Today he was pretty tired, and my teammate and I had to be creative to get him motivated, but by the end of the session, he had gotten visibly more confident and more skilled on the bike.  He'd even started his own creative campaign to motivate himself to bike:  he told the other woman that there was a bird flying in the air near her, and while she looked around to find it, he and I took off as fast as we could, and she had to run after us.

At one point today two other kids on bikes swiped by us pretty closely.  As soon as they were gone, Jesse stopped the bike and rested his head in his hands on the handlebars for a minute.  He looked a bit shaken, like that had been a lot to take in (particularly since, as I knew from his mom from yesterday, he was terrified of bikes).  After a moment, he lifted his head and was ready to ride again.  When I read Allie's blog post about her childhood terror of bikes, I think about Jesse, who's confronting his fear of bikes head-on, working himself to exhaustion, and without question going to learn to ride a bike.  I'm so excited to get to work with him.

Update:  Here's a news story about this program, from last night:


Anonymous said...

I did not learn to ride a bike until I was 12, and I have no excuses.

Also, I just showed that comic to my husband we laughed so hard we almost peed. Thank you for that.

-Lindsey Jones

Anonymous said...

This sounds like an awesome program, Alison! I'll be cheering on Jesse and everyone else from over here. Big thanks to you and the other supporters for providing the "training wheels." --Cassie

The Mom said...

Wow, Alison! Thank you so much for sharing your experience and the links here. I knew what you were doing, but hadn't understood the significance until reading this post and following the links.

Anonymous said...

A great program, Alison. I've experienced the long, long time it can take to get past those training wheels.