Big Dreams on Two Wheels – Friendship Circle Hosts iCan Bike Camp

They came, they biked, and, best of all, they beamed with pride.

Such was the scene Tuesday at West Bloomfield High School, where children with special needs made lap after lap around the gym, during Day 2 of the five-day iCan Bike camp hosted by Friendship Circle.

With the help of nearly 20 young volunteers and program staffers, participants made tremendous strides toward reaching their goal of riding a bicycle all on their own. Whether it was wearing a helmet for the first time or quickly rounding the orange cones on specially-equipped bikes with little help from spotters, each child triumphed on his or her own terms.
Rounds of applause and words of encouragement filled the room, in true Friendship Circle fashion.

“iCan Bike is an awesome way to get families connected with Friendship Circle and to tell them all about who we are and what we do,” said Erin Berry, Friendship Circle program manager. “This also helps us connect with the wider community as a whole – and building supportive connections is what Friendship Circle is all about.”

The weeklong camp consists of five 75-minute sessions each day. In all, 40 children are participating this year, thanks to word-of-mouth and social media outreach, Berry said.

For several years now, Friendship Circle has hosted the bike camp run by iCan Shine, a St. Louis-based organization that provides unique recreational learning opportunities for people with disabilities across the country. The two iCan Shine staffers conducting the West Bloomfield camp – Amanda Bartolotta of Buffalo, N.Y., and Eric Marr of St. Louis – will spend their summer traveling from state to state, teaching scores of children with special needs how to ride a bike. The pair work together – Marr as bike technician and Bartolotta as floor supervisor — to ensure each session runs smoothly.

Tuesday’s camp theme was Tandem Tuesday, Bartolotta explained.

In addition to riding the roller bikes, which have a safety roller instead of a rear tire to simulate the feel of riding on two wheels, campers had a chance to take a spin on a special tandem bike with Marr.

“We use it as a diagnostic tool to see what they need to work on,” he said. “If it’s steering, pedaling, leaning … we can diagnose that from taking them on a ride. It’s helpful in giving them interventions later on throughout the week.”

While campers rode the roller bikes, volunteers, many of whom were local high school students, were at their side, cheering them on. It was hard to tell who was having more fun – the campers or the volunteers.

That was the case for Anika Ghosh, an incoming freshman at West Bloomfield High School and a first-time volunteer at the camp. She relished all the smiles.

“It’s nice to see the campers happy and know that they can achieve their goals,” she said.

Learning to ride a bike can open up a whole new world of opportunities for children with special needs, children like Ryan Irwin of White Lake, for whom this childhood rite of passage seemed out of reach just days before.

His mother, Patty Irwin, said she was moved to tears Monday when she saw her 14-year-old son ride a bike for the first time.

“I cried,” she said, “because he’s been trying to ride since he was 4, and this, to me, is awesome.”

Click HERE to learn more about iCanBike.

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