Disabled kids learn to ride bikes

A camp at Nova Southeastern University in Davie is offering disabled youngsters the opportunity to learn how to ride a two-wheel bicycle.

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Published December 29, 2006 by The Miami Herald
BY TRENTON DANIEL

Photo: NISSA BENJAMIN — Broward Sheriff's Office Deputy Al Cardarelli helps Andrew DiMauro, 16, ride a training bike at Nova Southeastern University on Thursday.

[[image:disabled_bikes.jpg::inline:1]]Florida — Learning to ride a bicycle is a rite of passage for millions of American kids, but those with disabilities need more than a parent's steadying hand on the seat.

This week, some 40 youngsters with special needs are getting that extra hand in learning how to pedal a bicycle through a nationwide program called “Lose the Training Wheels.''

Led by disability advocate Jennifer Aubrey, the five-day bike camp at Nova Southeastern University aims to boost kids' self-esteem by allowing them to ride with the neighborhood kids and to shed some pounds. Another goal is to generate publicity so the program can be incorporated into local park and recreation programs.

`BEAUTIFUL PARKS'

''This has to be here in Florida, because we have all these beautiful parks, we have all this beautiful weather,'' said Aubrey, who saw the program first-hand almost a year ago in California. “And we're flat.''

Aubrey, a Tamarac resident, had tried to teach her disabled daughter, Ashlie Wegiel, how to ride a two-wheeler but was unsuccessful.

''I ended up teaching all her friends but not her,'' said Aubrey, who sits on NSU's institution review board. So the two traveled to California, to see the pioneering bike program in action. Ashlie, then 21, became a cyclist. Time: six hours.

''This is like magic, because it happens in a week,'' said Elaine McHugh, one of the program's three trainers and a professor of kinesiology at Sonoma State University in San Francisco.

The bicycles — designed by Illinois engineer Richard Klein — look like regular ones. But there is one difference: The rear wheel.

The wheel isn't a traditional inflatable tire, but one that varies in shape, from a cylinder to a football. Kids start out with the cylinder-like wheel and then move on to the more tapered wheel, just before switching to a two-wheeler.

Also among the fleet: a tandem bicycle and a bike with a heavy front wheel about five inches in width, which looks as if it could scale a mountain.

SECOND-FLOOR GYM

On Thursday morning, a handful of kids circled a second-floor gym in a NSU building in Davie. A handful of volunteers shadowed the riders, building a sweat.

Among the cyclists was Cole Biafore, an autistic 8-year-old. On Wednesday, he started out with the flat wheel. On Thursday, he progressed to one of the more football-shaped wheels.

His mother, Sheree Biafore, sees bike riding as a way for her son to fit in.

''They want to look like the other kids,'' said Biafore, 45. “They're not in training wheels anymore.''

Biafore said Cole could pedal around their Boynton Beach neighborhood with his 10-year-old brother when he learns how to ride two wheels.

By the second day, the camp saw a few success stories. Andrew DiMauro offered one of them. The Hollywood 16-year-old moved through the gym at a steady and comfortable pace.

With a helmet on, he kept his head forward, concentrating on steering the two-wheeler. When he finished he was quiet.

He said he felt good, and planned to ride to the sidewalk.