Learning the ropes – a Bike Camp volunteer’s personal experience

Last week we wrapped up the Lydia Cox Memorial Bike Camp at South Technical High School here in St. Louis. The camp was designed to teach individuals with special needs how to ride a two-wheel bike, a goal that has a success rate per camper of over 80%. By the end of the week, the whole camp was celebrating milestones and accomplishments – and this celebration was not lost on our volunteers. In today’s blog post, Katie, a first-time Bike Camp volunteer, talks about meeting, helping, getting to know and, of course, cheering on, her riders over the course of the week.

Matt – the confident crooner

With this year being my first year as a volunteer at Bike Camp, I was excited for the opportunity to see the joy of learning how to ride a bike, in action. I volunteered for two sessions each day. For my first session, I was paired with Matt, a tall teenager decked out in Cardinal gear and a talkative personality. Matt was well-balanced and had previous experience on a tandem bike, so right off the bat we were jogging beside him and his steady pedaling. It was a blast, and definitely a good workout. As the roller that replaced the back wheel became more and more altered to closely mimic an actual tire, we worked on balance and posture during his turns. Matt was confident and when we mastered the turns on the bike by the third day, we were on to the two wheeler.

My favorite moments with Matt, the speedy rider, was when he would get a consistent pace and really be in the zone. At that point, which was very often, he would start to sing. He sang to himself, but at a volume that enabled the other riders in proximity to know he was quickly approaching. Matt belting some great tunes allowed me to really see his confidence on the bike flourish each day. He was self-assured in his pedaling, balanced on his turns, and moving at a steady-speed – what else was there to do besides sing? I would have joined him in song, to celebrate his progress, but I had to focus on keeping up with the speed racer.

By Thursday, instead of running beside Matt, there to steady him if needed, I was on the sidelines, cheering for Matt. My confidence soon matched his confidence and I no longer worried if he needed help or assistance. He had mastered the bike, as well as, what to do if he didn’t make each turn. I had to opportunity to talk with Matt’s dad and share his excitement over Matt’s incredible skills on the new bike. Matt’s dad told me about their tandem bike and the rides they enjoyed together. Matt mastering the two wheeler, his own bike, really provided new biking opportunities for the two of them. It was a joy to watch Matt and it was a joy to witness a proud father become even more proud of his bike-riding son.

Drew – the strong, silent type

My second session, was with Drew, the very quiet, but very strong, 15 year old that was very focused on getting right on his bike the second he was in arms reach. Because Drew struggled to keep his head up, I walked backwards, in front of his bike for most of the session for the first couple of days. I was constantly encouraging him to look up at me by keeping a big smile on my face, which was easy to do in Drew’s presence. By day 3, I didn’t have to walk backwards as much, because he was looking straight ahead with new confidence, all on his own.

The best moment on the first day was when Drew hit a cone at a turn and thought it was absolutely hilarious. It was the first time I saw his amazing smile, and because he was very quiet at camp, I was thrilled to see more of his awesome personality. Drew was the ultimate rider because when he got on the two-wheeler, every so often he would lose balance and tip over, causing myself to panic, but causing Drew to laugh. He found humor in his little falls and allowed us to see his infectious smile. Encouraging Drew to keep his strong legs in constant movement, kept us in constant movement. Every time he picked up speed, he smiled, I smiled, everyone smiled.  His attitude and strong determination led him to get on the two-wheeler on Thursday and Friday, where I was able to see his amazing progress and pride in himself.

Bike Camp was an absolute joy to volunteer at for the week. As an avid volunteer with those with developmental disabilities, I loved interacting with all the riders and witnessing their progress in learning how to ride a bike. Bike riding is a rewarding experience because of the personal effort you put towards the act of biking. Riding a two-wheeled bike is something done on your own, as you, only, are in control of the pedals, brake and the handle bars. Many times those with developmental disabilities don’t always get the chance to truly do something on their own. This camp allowed the riders to develop the skills to really do something on their own, have full control, and succeed at the enjoyable experience of riding a bike. It was a honor to be among the new riders, and see the personal accomplishments of their stronger confidence and self-assurance.