VIRGINIA

'iCan Bike' helps special needs children lose training wheels

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ARLINGTON, Va. (WJLA) -- By using uniquely adapted bicycles and individual coaching, a summer camp in Arlington County is teaching some special needs children how to ride a bike.

Laurie Vena – mother of nine-year old program participant Anthony Vena – said he is very active, very strong and too big for his training wheels. However, she said he is just not mentally ready to go without them.

“So it's not like a physical thing, like he can't do it. It's [in his mind],” she said.

Organizers of iCan Bike said the weeklong program at Kenmore Middle School is about more than just balancing on two wheels. They said it helps children with physical or cognitive disabilities overcome a major social barrier.

When asked why he wanted to attend the summer camp, Anthony said, “So I can ride with my friend James.”

The program can also creates a psychological boost.

“Their self-esteem and their self-confidence goes through the roof,” said iCan Bike executive director Lisa Ruby. “And we hear from parents all the time. Now they want to try other things. You know, they're interested in pursuing things they never would have been interested in before. They would have been too afraid to fail.”

Two volunteers walk on both sides of each participant as they ride in loops around the school gym. Some bikes have handles on the back to help guide riders. As they develop more skills and confidence, safety rollers of different sizes – attached like training wheels – are phased out.

Organizers say – by mid-week – riders typically advance to just two wheels. By Friday, many of them are riding their own bikes.

Someday, biking might be the only means of transportation for Debra Matvich’s 15-year old daughter Madison.

“So that's what we have in the back of our minds – that hopefully she'll learn to ride not only for physical fitness but also for a means of transportation,” she said.

Matvich’s father said Madison was reluctant when they tried to teach her using training wheels at home, but at iCan Bike she did not seem fazed at all.

“Yeah, she wasn't smiling on training wheels,” Randy Matvich said, chuckling.

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