Learning to ride a bike is a big deal for kids, but for those with special needs it's far from easy and even scary. That's why Lose the Training Wheels holds instructional camps throughout the United States, including for the second time in Hoboken beginning Monday and running all week.
The program uses instructors and special equipment to teach children who are physically healthy but suffer from cognitive disabilities such as autism and Down's syndrome that impair their ability to ride a two-wheel bike.
To learn balance the children first practice riding on bicycles with special rollers instead of a rear wheel. As the children progress the rollers taper and narrow at the end, giving the children the sense of riding only a two-wheeler. Each bike also has a handle in the back for an instructor to help steer.
“The rollers give them the tipping feeling while letting them self-correct. We can tell the kids are mentally processing what they're doing,” said Rachel Kent, the floor supervisor for the Hoboken camp. Kent and bike technician Matt Cavalieri run many of the Lose the Training Wheels camps in the northeast.
This year the camp for kids age 8 and up is again happening at the Hoboken High School gym, though with an increase from ten children to 26. The children will spend Monday and Tuesday working with Kent, Cavalieri and other volunteers. Kent said that by Wednesday a few children could be ready to ride without training wheels, and that many of the rest could follow on Thursday and Friday. Kent said Lose the Training Wheels has an 80 percent success rate, though she added that even the children who aren't able to ride after the camp will learn how to keep practicing with their parents.
The bike camp came to Hoboken at the suggestion of Theresa Howard, who serves as Director for Special Needs Children with the Hoboken Family Alliance. Howard said she first heard about Lose the Training Wheels at a conference a few years ago. Howard said she recognized the camp's significance by remembering growing up in her own family and seeing her older sister who was diagnosed with Down syndrome struggle to ride.
"I thought it sounded liked a great program," Howard said. "I understand the challenges of learning to ride."
Howard estimated that running the camp this year cost over $10,000 for getting the equipment, giving the instructors housing and other expenses. Howard secured several local sponsors including Orlando Physical Therapy, Ben & Jerry's, hMAG Magazine, Litzky Public Relations and the Hoboken Harriers running club, and also raised money through HFA fundraisers, while parents with children enrolled in the camp split the remaining costs. The City of Hoboken is also helping with logistical support.
Howard said she learned a lot about organizing the bike camp after last year. She she the main challenge involves coordinating when the city can host the camp with when Lose the Training Wheels can send its instructors. She said this year she started planning much earlier. Last year's camp in Hoboken was the first ever in New Jersey, and Howard said both a parent and a volunteer who attended last year's camp have organized their own camps this year in Lincroft and North Brunswick.
Now that the second camp here is up and running Howard said she'll be able to relax a bit and enjoy seeing all those children learn how to ride.
“It's incredible,” Howard said. “When you see those kids start to ride on their own you get goosebumps.”
Lose the Training Wheels will run in Hoboken this Monday through Friday. The camp is still accepting volunteers, and also accepts bike donations. For more information contact Theresa Howard at firstname.lastname@example.org.