COPLEY TOWNSHIP, Ohio - On the gymnasium floor of Copley High School, Sue Ritter, of Medina, witnessed something that makes every parent proud. Her 9-year-old son, Mason, was able to truly pedal a bicycle for the first time.
Ritter had wondered if she'd ever see Mason achieve this childhood rite of passage, so when it happened before her eyes, it was a very emotional.
"It was the first time he has ever pedaled a bicycle more than two rotations, so we were extremely excited he was able to do that," Ritter said.
Mason has Down syndrome and despite efforts on three different bikes, he was unable to ride on his own. That all changed this week when Mason, with help from a specialized bicycle and volunteers, pedaled around the perimeter of the gym.
Forty kids with various disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy, are taking part in a five-day camp called "Lose the Training Wheels."
The children, between the ages of 8 and 17, are guided on bikes that have rollers on the back wheels, helping the riders maintain balance. The longer the children ride, the shorter the roller becomes, allowing them to gain confidence and get a feel for riding a two-wheel conventional bike.
By the time the week is up, many of the kids will be riding bikes without any form of training wheels.
Bob Greener, of Copley, watched with pride as his 13-year-old daughter, Halle, make remarkable progress on a bike. She has autism.
"My wife found out about it (the program) and I thought it was great because we've been trying to get her to ride a bike and she hasn't been able to do it," Greener said.
The program has been hosted in many U.S. cities, including Cleveland last year, but this was the first time it was held in the Akron area.
Laurie Cramer, the director of Autism Society of Ohio, Greater Akron area, helped organize the event after her son, who has autism, learned how to ride a bike in a week through the Cleveland program.
"These are kids and families who struggle everyday. And, something as simple as it sounds, as simple as riding a bike, is still a big hurdle. Our children often struggle to achieve things that we take for granted. Learning to ride a bike in a week, that's a miracle," Cramer said.
Cramer said the event will return next year and parents of children with disabilities are already making reservations.
For further information, contact Autism Society of Ohio, Greater Akron at 330-543-3955.
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