by Janine Halayko, physiotherapist and volunteer
The inspiration for our learn to ride class came in 2001. A 9-year-old girl I was working with asked me if she was the only child in grade 3 that could not yet ride a bike. No cycling groups for older children with coordination challenges were available at the time, so with my background as a paediatric physiotherapist, I decided to start one myself. I read up on motor learning strategies and brought the idea to my work where my colleagues (physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and education behaviour specialists) embraced it and expanded on it.
We ran our first cycling group in the spring of 2002 and had a stunning success rate – 100% of kids learned to ride. Parents also reported that the children were more confident and active. Unfortunately, budget cuts forced the program to end after only a couple of sessions. Not wanting the program to end, I approached the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Society about running it in the community. I was introduced to John Collier, a mechanic and a national examiner for the Can Bike program; He thought the idea was “grand”. Together with a handful of volunteers, we offered the first learn to ride class with the support of EBC in the fall of 2003.
In 2006 we expanded our resources to better support children with autism spectrum disorder and in 2011, I co-authored a book chapter sharing this knowledge . I also developed a train the trainer course so that we could share the entire curriculum with other therapists across the province.
In 2012, I returned to school to pursue a Master’s in rehabilitation science in order to better understand how to teach children with cognitive delays, particularly children with Down syndrome. I successfully defended my thesis in the summer of 2014. My findings are published in a 2016 research paper and in a book chapter published in 2017.
Through the years, a few families had donated some of their own adapted bicycles when their children graduated onto two wheels, which I informally passed onto other families working on the same skill.
In 2012, thanks to an amazing boy with Cerebral Palsy I had the pleasure of working with, I came to realize many things that paved the way to our Adapted Bicycle Loan Program. First, it is extremely difficult to get funding for adapted bicycles that exactly suits the needs of children with severe physical impairments. Many of the funding sources offer one-time grants, and bikes are a very low priority compared with a ramp into a home or a wheelchair accessible van. Second, adapted bikes are extremely expensive! Many of the grants did not cover the type of bikes that worked well for children with physical impairments. Finally, it is not possible to simply “rig up” any bike to fit a child; The boy I was working with had been working on pedaling for several months using a regular trike with adapted footplates and was able to pedal a few revolutions at a time. This was good, but as soon as he got on a Freedom Concepts bike, he was able to pedal and steer independently. For a child who gets around with a power wheelchair, this physical independence is a HUGE deal. The large number of families who shared that their adapted bike “never really worked” made me realize just how important finding the right bike is. Having every child being truly able to participate in cycling was the motivation behind the Borrow a Bike program.
In the Fall of 2012, we approached the President’s Choice Children’s Charity to see if they would consider funding a few styles of bikes that would then be lent out to families. We ended up receiving an $18,000 donation, which bought us five bikes, several adapted cycling components and the start we needed to get off the ground.
In addition to this generous donation, The City of Edmonton River Valley Program offered us storage space, the Cerebral Palsy Association in Alberta helped us with creating a Facebook page and planning, and the Canadian Paraplegic Association (now Paralympic Sports Association) partnered with us for the handcycle education.
The Children’s Ability Fund contributed $2500 allowing us to modify several bikes to meet the needs of the individuals borrowing them and Specialty Designs (now folded) helped create these custom parts. Many families generously donated their old adapted bikes or components to our program which were then fixed up by volunteers at the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Society (now Bike Edmonton). Where a bike was needed, Sport Central provided bikes that best matched the needs of our riders.
Our first fitting day, sponsored by the Optimist Club of Beverly, was in May 2013 where we fit just under 20 kids with bikes. This event was largely coordinated by Trent Magis, another paediatric physiotherapist. Media coverage from this event was phenomenal and the community rallied to provide bikes and monetary donations allowing us to support even more kids. By the end of the season, 46 children had benefited from the program. This also marked the time that the Alberta Association for Community Living (now Inclusion Alberta) became a partner.
Up to the end of 2013, You Can Ride 2 (YCR2) was an entirely volunteer run program. EBC provided the infrastructure, insurance and mechanical help; the program would not have been possible without their support.
Over 1000 volunteer hours went into running the program this first year, with much of this time being given by skilled professionals and parents. All of the programs were initially free for families. However, with the massive growth in the program, it was necessary to hire a head mechanic and a program coordinator to keep up with the demand.
Thanks to a $25,000 donation from the Alberta Association of Insurance Adjusters in the fall of 2013, we were able to hire a head mechanic and a program coordinator (and purchase 23 additional bikes) for the 2014 season. Grants from Mountain Equipment Co-op and Make Something Edmonton as well as a donation from the front of house staff at the Jubilee Auditorium allowed us to continue this for the 2015 season and purchase additional equipment and parts.
The 2015 events were sponsored by the Optimist Club of Beverly, Urban Systems Foundation, the Rotary Club of Sherwood Park and the Rotary Club of Spruce Grove. At their 2015 Lobsterfest festival, the Rotary Club of Spruce Grove also raised just under $90,000 for our program. Many other businesses helped by funding equipment, innovation or providing services.
Our 2016 season and additional equipment purchases were made possible thanks to grants from the Insurance All Industry Golf Charity Tournament and the Autobody and Insurance Adjusters Golf and Friendship Tournament. By the middle of the 2016 season, we had acquired so many bikes that we were not sure they would fit back into our storage spaces.
It was then that Goodwill stepped in to suggest a partnership; a $75,000 investment would guarantee us a space to store our bikes and run our program for 10 years. Thanks to the Rotary Club of Spruce Grove, we had almost $50,000 saved up. Donations from the Dirty Birds Charity Hockey Tournament and several private donors allowed us to make up the difference and we moved into the Goodwill Impact Centre in the fall of 2016. This partnership worked so well, that in 2017, we transitioned from under the umbrella of Bike Edmonton to Goodwill Industries of Alberta.
With the input of countless children, parents, volunteers and students, our program continues to evolve to best meet the needs of the children and families we serve. We continue to work towards improving cycling access for all children. We have partnered with NetImpact and several MBA students to figure out how to make our program sustainable. We look forward to all of the possibilities this new partnership will bring and to working more with parents, kids, volunteers and members of the community.
Thank you to everyone supporting this amazing program!