Pushing his shiny red bike out the gymnasium doors and into the parking lot, Henry Yale declared that Friday was the best day of his life: the day he would finally climb on a bike without training wheels and without fear.
Moments later the 9-year-old was off, pedaling fast around the Papillion-La Vista South High School lot.
Soon the lot was filled with children and teenagers zooming by on two wheels while volunteers ran alongside and parents cheered from the sidewalk.
Friday was graduation day for the 40 cyclists in the iCan Bike Camp, a five-day camp that teaches people with disabilities how to ride a bike independently. The program, part of the nonprofit iCan Shine, offers camps around the U.S. and Canada.
The Papillion camp was hosted by the Autism Society of Nebraska and Pediatric Therapy Center.
“This really gives kids the gift of a lifelong skill,” said Julie Czepa, a board member with the Autism Society. “We’ve had parents in tears by the end, saying ‘Now my child can finally join the neighbor kids when they ride up and down the block.’ ”
After five 75-minute sessions, almost all the campers can ride on their own, said Amy Casale, one of the iCan staff members who travel to the bike camps.
Each rider starts out the week on an adapted bike, with the back wheel replaced by a foam roller. Throughout the week the width of that roller gets narrower to help the riders establish their balance gradually.
Like many of the children who attended the five-day iCan Bike Camp this week, Henry has autism. His parents had tried to teach him to ride independently for five years, but as soon as the training wheels came off, Henry would get nervous.
“For something that once caused so much anxiety to now put a huge smile on his face — that’s a huge victory,” said Henry’s dad, Adam Yale.
Henry’s already been asking about when he can hit the Big Papio Trail on his shiny red two-wheeler with the “I love my bike” bell.
“This week has worked magic for Henry,” Yale said. “Now we just have to make sure we keep riding and practicing. I don’t see that being a problem.”