iCan Bike

Program opens up a new world for individuals with disabilities

Up 4 Downs of Southwest Louisiana is sponsoring iCan Bike Camp at Burton Coliseum this week. ICan Bike, a division of the iCan Shine nonprofit group, teaches people with disabilities to ride conventional bicycles using adapted bike equipment.

The bicycle features a roller-wheel, instead of a back tire, that is changed out at decreasing sizes and has a handle attached in case riders need help steering.

Melanie Sarro, president of Up 4 Downs and camp director, said 80 percent of campers will finish the week knowing how to ride a bicycle independently and the remaining 20 percent will have made strides in their cycling abilities.

Sarro, an occupational therapist and mother of a child with Down syndrome, said individuals with Down syndrome or other chromosomal abnormalities have low muscle tone, making it difficult to master the balance required to steer a bicycle. Similarly, she said, many have difficulty perceiving their physical presence in relation to the world around them, causing fear and insecurity at the idea of being propelled forward by a bicycle.

For the families of campers who have longed to see their children engage in such recreation, the special bicycles are a wish granted.

“How well these kids do on these bikes is amazing to see in action,” said Kristen Nazworth, mother of Landon Nazworth, a child with Alfi syndrome. “His balance is really bad even with training wheels. But, he got on this and wasn’t scared, nervous or unsure of himself.”

Nazworth said her son has awoke each morning this week excited about the prospect of attending camp.

“It’s exciting for him to even be able to go to a camp. When you have a child with a disability, as a parent you sit there and watch them try their best to do what their sibling and friends do, but they just cannot do it. It breaks your heart. I would love to see my child ride a bike.”

Sarro agreed, saying bicycling provides a chance for individuals with disabilities to interact with their peers and at the same time reap tremendous health benefits.

Speaking of her 11-yearold son, she said, “At their age, the majority of their friends are riding bikes and they’re left out. They can’t do it. And it’s great exercise, especially for kids with Down syndrome who are more apt to have weight issues, a lot of them, because of hypothyroidism. So, this is a form of exercise as well as an inclusive act.”

Each camp session includes 75 minutes of instruction and riding. Campers rotate between riding tandem bicycles with instructors and riding independently on the speciality bicycles. More than three and a half miles have been clocked each day in the sessions, Sarro said.

“These kids are tired. They’re exhausted. Especially for kids who don’t have normal strength or muscle definition. It’s twice as hard,” Sarro said.

The campers, however, are resilient.

“He (Landon) is moving a little slower today,” said Nazworth, pointing to her son making another lap around the coliseum. “He will not complain and he will not stop. Though his legs are very sore, he’s very excited to come every day.”

The annual Step Up 4 Downs walk is set for Sept. 29; proceeds from the walk support bringing more programs like iCan Bike Camp to Southwest Louisiana. For more information or to register, visit www.up4downswla.org.