The iCan Bike Camp is helping 25 people with disabilities learn to ride a two-wheeled bike independently.
The Anne Carlsen Center brought in two employees of iCan Shine, a national organization that provides education for people with disabilities, to teach the riders how to bike in a safe, structured and fun way in the VFW Arena in East Grand Forks.
Shelly Carton, the grandmother of Hope Routledge, 9, saw mention of the bike camp online. She said it seemed like a “great opportunity for her (Hope) to ride a two-wheeler.”
“When we go to sleep at night, she (Hope) says, ‘We’ll go to sleep for two minutes, then we’ll go back to bike camp,'” Carton said.
Carton and Hope drove seven hours from their Canadian home to attend the camp.
Before the camp, riding a bike independently was not an option for Hope because she was nervous about falling, according to Carton.
“Look how far she’s come,” Carton said, referring to her granddaughter riding a modified bike with minimal help from volunteers, working as spotters.
The spotters help the kids from falling and stay engaged while the floor supervisor offers instruction. Lacey Meiers, Sandra Iverson and Ellie Johnston were the spotters working with Hope. All three said they would “absolutely” volunteer to be a spotter again.
“It’s really, really awesome to see the progress of the kids,” Meiers said. “I’m also learning from the trainer and her programming.”
When asked what her favorite part of the camp was, Hope smiled, pointed at her spotters and said, “These guys!”
Nine-year-old Greyson, another rider, gave the spotters and trainers a two thumbs up but said, “If I had more thumbs I’d do, like, 10.”
Greyson’s mother, Kelly Arth, said that, like Hope, Greyson had difficulty learning to ride before the camp.
“He kinda felt bad about himself because he couldn’t do it,” Arth said. “But I can see his confidence growing.”
Arth said she recommends the program because she has seen Greyson’s self-esteem and self-confidence improve.
“He’s been wanting to learn to ride bike with his friends,” Arth said. “He loves it (the camp). He’s proud of himself because he’s getting farther every day.”
Alana Turner is the floor supervisor and provides activities that help the kids learn to ride. Turner and Hunter Show, the bike technician, are both from Mississippi and travel the country all summer holding camps. Turner started volunteering in 2016 and became a supervisor in 2017. In between the teaching and practicing, the kids have dance parties and complete “secret missions,” including taking selfies with the volunteers or giving different people high-fives to motivate them. The program also uses victory laps to keep the kids excited.
“Motivation is key,” Turner said.
While the riders are learning, Show prepares the bikes for them to use. He said that the special rollers attached to the back of the bikes slowly become narrower to gradually add instability. This teaches the riders to balance themselves safely, according to Show.
iCan Shine has 14 fleets of bikes that travel around the country. This means 14 camps can be held each week in the summer.
Kevin Sandess, the training and development specialist at the Anne Carlsen Center, said that about 195 riders have graduated from the camp.
“A girl who came through last year dropped by yesterday to see how the camp was doing,” Sandness said. “She had biked with her mom from south Grand Forks.”
The Anne Carlsen Center has put on nine camps over the past six years. Kevin Sandness said the center hopes to put on more bike camps in the coming years and is even considering bringing iCan Swim, another iCan Shine program that teaches people with disabilities how to swim, to North Dakota and Minnesota.
East Grand Forks gave iCan Shine and the Anne Carlsen Center free access to the VFW Arena from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 15 through July 19. Several local businesses, including Scheels, Wells Fargo and Bremer Bank provided volunteers or resources, including helmets, to make the event happen.