Learning to ride a bike can help with life’s challenges

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Statistics show 80 percent of those with special needs never learn to ride a bicycle. However, during the annual “Lose the Training Wheels Camp” that begins Monday in Huntington, 80 percent of the participants leave knowing the joy of freewheeling on their own.

“If you think back to when you were a kid and what a big deal it was learning to ride when you were five or six or whatever and then if you think you had an inhibition that kept you from learning, that would be a big deal,” said Dr. Gregg Twietmeyer, associate professor of kinesiology at Marshall University.

Twietmeyer learned of the camp four years ago. The I-Can Shine program puts on the bike camps all over the country to help those with special needs learn to ride. Twietmeyer asked his department to sponsor the camp and 2014 will be their fourth year.  Staged at Huntington High School the camp takes five days and teaches those with maladies to successfully ride on their own.

“Most of the campers are Down’s Syndrome or Autistic,” said Twietmeyer. “But we’ve had a wide spectrum. My nephew came two years ago and he has spinal muscular atrophy which is a genetic problem which leads to weakness and stiffness in his legs.”

Twietmeyer says the benefits are profound.  He said there’s the simply joy of learning to ride a bike, which is a fun activity for anybody, but there’s the sense of accomplishment which is also an important factor in development.

“There’s the extrinsic reward of self esteem and inclusion among your peers or your brother and sister,” he said. “You can imagine if you’re 10 or 12 and you have a five year old brother or sister who can ride. That would cause some friction.”

The camp can accept up to 35 campers and many of the volunteers are family members. However, Twietmeyer said many Marshall University students choose to participate. He said it’s great public service, but also a valuable life skill.

“You’ve got people from nursing, people from education, and people from our own department of exercise science and sport management,” he said. “They’re getting that interaction with real clients and real students.”

The camp will run through Friday at Huntington High School.

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