Clayton Whalen, with ICan Shine, bent down to get on Liam Perez’s level. Liam did not want to do another lap on his bike.
“C’mon, you can do it. Just give me three more laps,” Whalen said.
Liam, 9, shook his head, but after enough cajoling from Whalen and the firefighter volunteers helping him, he pedaled off for three more laps, smiling as the bike flew across the gym floor.
Thanks to the REACH Center, 15 area students with different intellectual and developmental disabilities learned how to ride a bicycle this week.
Saphyre Allen proudly wheeled around Thursday afternoon, pedalling around the Travis High School of Choice gym. She had to stop, however.
“My tape fell off,” she said, pointing to the tape around the pedals of the training bike, preventing her feet from getting stuck in the pedals. She added she was having so much fun.
“She loves it,” said Erin Bankston, a REACH Center volunteer. “I’ve worked with her every day. She knows me from Buddy Baseball.”
Whalen and Alana Turner came to Paris with a fleet of training bikes to help area students learn to ride. Whalen said they are part of the national organization, ICan Shine, which hosts biking and other camps around the country.
“This is our first time in Paris,” Whalen said.
The bikes use a proprietary system where the back wheel is replaced by rollers at different angles, and it comes with back handle for volunteers to steady the rider.
“We’re literally controlling how wobbly the bike is,” Whalen said, adding by the time they move up to a proper two-wheeler, “they don’t realize it and it forces them to learn balance. A lot of them get it instantly.”
The ICan Shine crew also has tandem bike, but unlike traditional tandems, the controlling seat is in the back, allowing Whalen to see where the riders are going wrong and what can be done to correct them.
Krissy Crites, the director of the REACH Center, said she heard about the organization at a conference, the Down Syndrome Affiliates in Action conference. She said the program has been going very well so far. By Thursday, eight of the 15 riders had moved onto a traditional two-wheeled bike. She didn’t know for sure if ICan Shine would be back next year.
“If not next year, then the year after that,” she said. “I have a very good feeling they will be here next year, though.”
Tiffany Phillips, whose daughter Autumn was one of the students racing around the gym, said the program has been great for her daughter.
“Any exercise she is not happy about, she gets mean,” Phillips said. “(Since starting the lessons) she has not complained one time about being on the bike.”
DeeDee Perez, Liam’s mom, said her son goes outside and wants to keep up with his older brother, but has a hard time with it.
“This is one of the things he’s wanted to do for a long time,” she said.
At home, the family had tried training wheels, but without success.
“He really had a hard time pedalling,” she said.
Perez said it’s important that Liam, who has Down Syndrome, learn how to ride a bike.
“To have this opportunity is a big deal,” she said, tearing up. “For some of these kids, later on, learning to ride a bike could mean living an independent life. He’ll be able to get his own groceries. Most of them won’t be able to get driver’s licenses.
“Some people think it’s not a big deal, learning to ride a bike, but for these kids, it’s everything.”
The Hugo, Oklahoma, mom said she tried to get her son into one of the camps before now, but most of them have been too far away, and the family couldn’t afford the expense of a hotel room.
Crites said families from Hugo, Avery and Cooper also came to the camp.
Whalen said the camp costs around $10,000 to $12,000 to run, including T-shirts, travel costs, hotel for the staff and other expenses.
Crites said they were able to put on the camp thanks to the Roy and Skeeter David Foundation, the Denver Pyle Children’s Charities, Savory Sisters Catering, Step’s 2 Stride, Xzact Therapy, Cycle Works Bike Shop and the Cottonwood at Firth Farm LLC. She added the Denver Pyle charity also purchased helmets and bicycles for the children to take home.
Overall, Crites said, the camp has been a huge community effort.
“Our venue fell through at the last minute,” Crites said, adding that Prairiland, North Lamar and Paris ISDs worked to find a place for the camp. “It has definitely been a community pulling together to make this happen.”
Outside, Saphyre had switched to a two-wheeled bike and careened through the Travis High School parking lot.
“Yay!” she squealed.