17 October 2009

Adaptive bikes aid 3 riders

Princeton Union Eagle
By Joel Stottrup

Three Princeton students are now enjoying what most kids take for granted — riding a bicycle.

For a long time eighth graders Stephanie Ackerman and Brady Hopland, and fifth grader Colton Benner were unable to ride regular bicycles because of their disabilities. But they could ride the adaptive kind of bikes available during school hours when they had adaptive physical education. However, when they were not in school they were out of luck. They just had to watch other kids ride their bikes.

That changed for Stephanie, Brady and Colton this year, as they got their own bicycles, bikes with three wheels that they can ride. The idea came about after Princeton developmental adapted phy ed instructor JoAnn Aderman began thinking about the bicycle-deficit plight of the three.

“Every kid deserves a bike,” Aderman said at her office last week. “Most kids want to be mobile, get around. Most kids want to ride a bike, they want to swim and be able to get places.”

Trouble is, the three-wheel adaptive bicycles designed for children with disabilities can cost hundreds of dollars and are unaffordable for many families.

Aderman had met Sally Brown who has a St. Paul-based business called Every Kid Mobility that helps find and obtain bicycles for families with kids with disabilities. Brown, who has cerebral palsy, got her own adaptive bicycle at age 50.

Eighth-grader Stephanie Ackerman's adaptive bike allows her to ride with her firends. "Every kid deserves a bike," said adapted phy ed instructor JoAnn Aderman.

For a child to get their own bike and ride is “such a life change,” Brown said last Thursday. “Riding a bike is like a rite of passage. It’s an amazing thing.”

Brown puts on bike fairs during which people can look at the different styles of adaptive bicycles available and see which ones would be suitable. Aderman met Brown at one of those fairs.

Brady would need an especially adaptive bike as he is severely disabled physically and cognitively, said Aderman. The adaptive bicycle he ended up with through the help of Brown, would be the most expensive at $1,700. Colton’s would be the next most expensive at $700-800, according to Aderman, and Stephanie’s bicycle would come in at about $200. Stephanie’s requirement was mainly that it have three wheels and coaster and hand brakes, Aderman explained.

Brady’s three-wheel bike had to have certain cables and a special seat, handlebars and pedals, Aderman noted.

Before the bicycles could be purchased, funding had to be arranged. The three families applied for and received grants from Minnesota Big Dads, Inc., Princeton Lions Club and Minnesota P.E.O. Home Fund to fund the purchases. Money was also donated by some Princeton school staff members, mostly at the middle school and some at North Elementary, Aderman said.

Colton’s new adaptive bicycle is a three wheeler that sits low to the ground and has a sleek, low slung look.

The left side of Colton’s body is compromised by the post strep autoimmune dystonia that he had when he was seven and at the end of second grade, his mother Bobbi Benner noted.

During the summers of 2007 and 2008, the Benners tried seeing if Colton could ride a regular bicycle. They added training wheels, and also Velcro to keep both of his feet on the pedals.

“But it was hard for him and he still wiped out,” Bobbi said. “He couldn’t get going fast enough and he couldn’t stop. He was frustrated and he would cry.”

Colton, Stephanie and Brady received their adaptive bicycles this past summer.

Colton’s new adaptive bike is “super cool,” Bobbi says. “All his cousins and stuff want to ride it. It’s real smooth. He doesn’t need to worry about the balance and he can go a lot faster, smoother.”

Colton can now also keep up with the rest of his family when they are bicycling, and Colton rides much longer, Bobbi says.

Colton has ridden with family members from his home outside city limits and into Princeton to go to the Dairy Queen. He’s also been able to go on the bicycle during family camping trips.

“It’s been really neat for him,” Bobbi said. “It’s kind of a freedom thing. He’s just so excited.”

Bobbi remembers that, at first, Colton hesitated checking out an adaptive bike, thinking he would not look so good on one. She remembers that when the family took him to an adaptive bike fair in St. Cloud to look at adaptive bikes that she could hardly get him out of the car. But once he was at the fair and trying one of the adaptive bicycles he liked, she could hardly get him to leave.

“It’s been really fun,” Bobbi said. “We were really thankful for JoAnn’s help and referral.”

Aderman said she thinks Colton is still “bound and determined” to ride a two-wheel bike.

When Bobbi was asked about that, she agreed. Colton has still been trying to ride a regular bicycle, Bobbi explaining that he had gotten up on a cousin’s two-wheel bike this past summer but “wiped out. But we know he’ll get up again.”

Colton works hard to succeed at things, Bobbi said. She noted that he has not being able to use his arms to swim like most people. So, during a family vacation in Florida he taught himself to swim in the resort swimming pool and taught himself by moving his body “like a dolphin,” she said.

Aderman talked excitedly about Colton, Brady and Stephanie getting their bikes and being able to now ride beyond the school day.

It wasn’t until the seventh grade that Stephanie rode a bike and that was because it was the first time Stephanie had access to an adaptive bicycle at school, Aderman said. Now Stephanie will benefit from getting the exercise that bike riding offers, Aderman added.

And Brady?

“There are only a couple things he’s successful at and bicycling is one of them,” Aderman said. “He loves it.”

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