EAST PEORIA — At EastSide Centre last week there was a different kind of activity happening. While people walked on the outer perimeter of the track, children rode special bicycles on the inner portion.
Brenda Bleichner, executive assistant to Easter Seals president and CEO, said the program is called I Can Bike, one of the offerings from I Can Shine.
Heather Rockwell, floor supervisor at I Can Shine, said it is a non-profit organization that specializes in recreational activities for individuals with disabilities. I Can Shine also offers I Can Swim and I Can Dance.
I Can Bike is a five-day bike camp, July 25-29, in which children with special needs or disabilities learn how to ride a bike, Bleichner said.
“A lot of these kids have either never ridden a bike before or they are limited to their exposure to bike riding, and so this program and these adapted bicycles are designed to teach them,” she said.
Easter Seals has hosted I Can Bike for about six years, and it has been held at EastSide Centre twice. The majority of the children who participate have received services at Easter Seals.
“I think this program is important — and speaking from my experience from Easter Seals — such a huge part of our mission is about making sure that everybody has equal opportunities so this program itself encourages that,” Bleichner said.
The bicycles, instead of using training wheels, have a wide tire in the back that helps balance the rider, Bleichner said.
All of the participants wear helmets during the training.
Some of the bikes observed at EastSide in use on July 27 had a roller in the back instead of a wheel. The bikes also had a handle in the back that a guide could hold onto.
“As the rider gains more confidence, as the rider gains more balance, then they’re able to be comfortable on a traditional two-wheel bike,” Bleichner said.
Sixteen children participated in the $75 camp this year. The minimum age to participate is 7 1/2
and they have had riders in the past up to 19 years old.
“We’ve even had some adults learn to ride bikes at the camp as well,” Bleichner said.
Parent Margaret Baker of Germantown Hills said the program is outstanding.
Ray and Margaret’s son, 11, did I Can Bike for two years in a row. Now their daughter Isabella is participating.
“The program was successful in getting him up and riding on two wheels ... our daughter, who is neurotypical — she struggles with anxiety and fear of falling off her bike, so it’s been a barrier to learn it. She was eligible for the I Can Bike program,” Bleichner said.
Isabella, 8, got off the bike she was riding and gave Rockwell a high five, telling her she did 29 laps. Isabella said the experience was a good one.
“I liked all of it. It’s really easy,” she said, adding that she would be able to ride a bike at home with her brother.
Ray said the program has taught his children confidence.
“Like all Easter Seals programs it’s wonderful. ... it gives them great confidence, helps them to accomplish some things that neurotypical kids do with relative ease,” he said.
College-age and high school-age volunteers help the children learn how to ride the bikes.
“It’s just very inspiring and very encouraging,” Ray said. “The kids just love them. They look up to them.”
Christy Getz of West Peoria watched as her daughter Maggie, 7, rode around the track. It was the first time the Getz family participated in I Can Bike.
“It’s phenomenal. It’s wonderful. The staff is great and it’s nice that the kids can learn with other children — because they all have a disability with developing (and they are) with their peers. It’s nice for a parent to be in this environment to be with other parents who share the same concerns and the same goals. We want to see our kids succeed,” Getz said.
Doug McCarty, director at EastSide, said they are going to try to make the camp a permanent event.
“Now with construction out here at the stadium being done they can come out on the track ... The netting system we made inside in the spring kind of separates (them). They are able to be in the gym without having to worry about the walkers on the track, so hopefully it’s a good fit for them,” McCarty said.
McCarty wants the community to be aware that the complex offers more than sporting activities.
“It was built as more of a community rec center, a facility that is more than just sports. It’s a multi-purpose facility,” he said.
“EastSide Centre has been phenomenal to work with. This is a great space, not just for the camp, but for the community,” Bleichner said.