His Chance to Ride

On the sidewalks of Sanford Children’s Hospital, a 14-year-old boy got to accomplish a dream that he had given up on years ago.

Anyone who happened to look out the window, or drove by on that day probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. A boy with a shock of unruly brown hair circled around the building on a black and white bicycle.

But for the teen with a wide, infectious grin, these few moments were absolutely life changing. “I feel so young,” shouted Charlie, who undergoes several types of therapy at Sanford for a sensory disorder. “I feel like I’m five again!”

A common need

Sanford pediatric occupational therapist Kristin Wittmayer saw many patients like Charlie, who were referred to the clinic for overall clumsiness, frequent falling, poor attention or visual and motor skills difficulties. Many are unable to ride a bike, a complex motor task that requires coordination on both sides of the body.

“If you can’t ride a bike, you’re left out in so many ways,” says Wittmayer. “It’s such a big part of the experience of childhood for kids.” Over the years, Wittmayer noticed that many of the children she worked with in pediatric therapy sessions were very pleasant, but shy. Others would act like the “class clown,” using behavior that some saw as naughty to try to get out of activities that they found difficult or impossible. Noticing that bike riding, and the balance it requires, was one of those skills and activities that many of the children avoided, but could benefit from, Wittmayer contacted Scheels to see if they might donate a bicycle that could be used in physical therapy activities. The sporting goods store almost immediately sent over two very high-end bicycles – one small and one larger – for the therapists to use.

A new approach

When Charlie first saw the bike that he would be using, he got a little scared, he said. “I thought that I would fail epically,” said the teen. “I would be trying and it would be like, ‘ha ha ha’ again.”

Ten years earlier, the 14-year-old boy had tried to learn how to ride a bike. But when he fell off, again and again, people started to make fun of him. He felt ashamed and just gave up, he says. So when Wittmayer suggested that bike riding might be a good part of his therapy plan, he didn’t really have much hope. Those memories of the teasing were still fresh in his brain, he says.

But this time something was much different. His physical therapist taught him about balance before he even got on the bike. At first they worked together on the sidewalks outside the Children’s Hospital, with the therapist running alongside him. And then he was on his own and the bike didn’t fall.

“He just let me go,” says Charlie. “The hardest part is not crashing. I don’t like to use the brakes.”

Wittmayer was working with one of her occupational therapy patients when she caught sight of Charlie’s first solo bike ride outside the windows. Soon many of the pediatric therapy staff made it over to the window to see the often-reserved teen riding up and down the sidewalk with a bright smile on his face.

“It was so incredible to see,” says Wittmayer. “Everyone wanted to see him ride.”

Not alone anymore

Being able to ride a bike enhanced Charlie’s life in many ways. When he got home, he didn’t tell anyone he had learned to ride a bike, he says, hiding his face as he talks. Instead, he just got on the bike and went, amazing his neighbors and friends. Now when it’s time to go places, he doesn’t get left behind. He can ride with friends, around his house, around the block or to the park. “I’m not alone anymore,” Charlie says.

Wittmayer says many more children like Charlie will benefit from the bicycles donated by Scheels. This simple skill enhances their lives in so many ways, giving them self-confidence and independence, letting them fully play and be socially accepted by their peers.

“It’s amazing what we can do with a couple of bicycles,” says Wittmayer. “They’ve already making a huge difference.”

Posted Date: September 2013

His Chance to Ride

Fourteen-year-old Charlie never thought he’d be able to ride a bike to the pool or the park, but now he pedals alongside his friends. Learn how two donated bicycles are helping Sanford Children’s patients make their dreams happen.