Nineteen years ago, Sonoma State kinesiology professor emeritus Elaine McHugh attended a conference where she saw an engineer and a kinesiology professor present a new way to teach kids with special needs how to ride a bicycle.
“I was aware that riding a bike was a skill that is critical for children in our culture, a ‘rite of passage’ you can say,” said McHugh. “Being able to ride a bike means kids are able to recreate on an equal par with family members and friends, achieve a new level of independence, and stay active.”
When she returned to Sonoma State, she founded Cycle Without Limits, an annual bike camp that has helped children with special needs learn how to ride a conventional two-wheeler with the help of specially designed bicycles. This year, the camp will be held once again on Sonoma State campus on Jan. 18 to Jan. 21.
“What has kept me so passionate about the camp is that by providing a way for children with challenges to learn this important skill, we have changed lives in a profound way,” says McHugh. “At each camp, we experience children gaining confidence they haven’t had before, and that confidence spills over onto other challenges. We hear that children can now do something ‘just like other kids’ and are proud of themselves - plus, it gives families a new way to recreate together and stay active.”
The event, presented by Sonoma State University in partnership with United Cerebral Palsy of the North Bay, uses bikes that have air cylinders to gently cushion the rider while keeping the rider safely upright. As the rider's skill develops over the course of the camp, the air pressure is gradually reduced until the rider is riding on his or her own. Each rider has a camp counselor at their side while on the bike, making any necessary adjustments as riders gain confidence pedaling around the Sonoma State gymnasium. Instructors of the camp include adapted physical education teachers and SSU kinesiology students.
The event has been happening since 2001 when McHugh invited the team from the conference she attended to come to campus. After working with a shoestring budget for several years, she established a partnership with United Cerebral Palsy of the North Bay, where McHugh now serves on the board of directors. UCPNB employee Dennis Blong designed and built the camp’s own fleet of bikes in 2012.
The fee for the three-day camp is $300, with limited scholarships available. The camp has three sessions to choose from, with an optional extra practice or refresher day of training on Saturday, Feb. 9.
A summer edition of the camp will be offered June 10 to June 14 at SSU. The five-day camp includes a swim instruction session for children with disabilities.
For more information, visit http://ucpnb.org/recreation/cycle-without-limits-bike-camp.