Mission accomplished for Baldwin City bike camp

ICan Shine camp floor leader Kenan Brod runs along side of Faith Wallis at a Friday session of the ICan Shine bicycle camp on a Baldwin High School parking lot. With the help of 88 volunteers, 27 individuals with physical and/or developmental disabilities learned to bike at the five-day camp. Enlarge photo

June 30, 2015

As she was explaining her reasons Friday for volunteering for last week’s ICan Shine bike camp at Baldwin High School, Laura McCall suddenly noticed young campers engaged in something she would not have thought impossible four days earlier.

“Look, they’re racing,” she said, pointing at two campers vying for inside position as they raced around a practice track set up on a Baldwin High School parking lot. “On Monday, they didn’t even know how to ride. To see how far they’ve come is amazing.”

McCall, of Vinland, was one of 88 volunteers who helped 27 youngsters and adults learn to ride bicycles at the ICan Bike camp last week at Baldwin High School. It was the second straight year Baldwin school district occupational therapist Barbara Schwering and special education instructor Betsy Ulrich have brought the ICan Shine bike camp to the high school.

ICan Shine, a Pennsylvanina-based nonprofit, offers camps nationwide that teach children and adults with physical and/or developmental disabilities to ride bicycles, starting them on the first day of the camp on bikes equipped with belt-driven foot-long rollers instead of rear wheels. During the camp’s five days of 75-minute sessions, the bikers switch to bikes with progressively smaller rollers before graduating to those with standard rear wheels.

Another specialized safety precaution are long handles extending from the rear seat that trainers can use to help the novice riders with stability. On Friday, four of the six riders in the camp’s second afternoon session had moved past the need for that added precaution.

The cyclists improvement was such that there was little for her or most of the other volunteers to do Friday but shout encouragement to the riders. That wasn’t the case earlier in the week, McCall said.

“The first two days we ran with the kids tag team,” she said. “It looks like there’s a lot here now (volunteers), but we were very busy before.”

Schwering said the number of volunteers could have been reduced late in the week, but she didn’t want to deprive those who gave their time the satisfaction of seeing the campers’ improvement.

“They like to see the progress the campers make,” she said.

Parents are also impressed with how well their children were riding.

Watching Friday as her son De’Mondre Monroe circled the training parking lot, LaToya Edwards, of Shawnee, said her attempts to teach her 15-year-old son to ride failed.

“He was always afraid of falling and hurting himself,” she said. “He’s doing great. He usually doesn’t like camps, but he’s really excited to come to this. Today he was like, ‘Mom, it’s late. We’ve got to get going.’”

Edwards said she learned at the camp she had bought the wrong kind of bike for her son and that contributed to her failed attempts to teach him to ride. It was suggested he would do better with a “cruiser” type bicycle, she said.

Such advice is one of the things she does as travels from community to community with bike technician Mark Spicer to put on the ICan Shine bike camps, said Kenan Brod. A recreational therapist with a recreational program near Baltimore, Md., nine months a year, she is in her fourth summer of traveling the ICan Shine bike camp circuit, Brod said.

Her other duties as floor instructor at camps include leading the 75-minute training sessions and instructing volunteers on training techniques.

Campers started inside the gym and switched to riding in the parking lot on the camp’s third day if they were ready, Brod said. Despite her and the volunteers’ watchful eyes and the specialized equipments, spills happen, she said.

“We give them encouragement and get them right back on the bike, so they don’t become afraid of it,” she said.

Ulrich and Schwering said there were 88 volunteers for the camp this year. They included Baldwin High School and Baker University students, faculty and staff members from the school district and university, 22 students and staff in the Neosho County Community College occupational therapy assistant program and residents from Baldwin City, Lawrence and other nearby communities.

Many of the volunteers have expressed interest in helping again next year, they said. Ulrich and Schwering plan to offer the camp again next summer in another community nearby. That change of venue is a sign of the camp’s success the past two years in Baldwin City.

“When we brought the camp to the community we did so with a number of people in mind,” Ulrich said. “All those kids have been through the camp in the last two years.”

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