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iCan Bike camp provides life-changing experience
Posted 07/21/2016 08:00AM

The Brunswick News, By Lauren McDonald

iBike

Cheers erupted throughout the gym when Kira Browning, 11, rode a bike on her own for the first time on Wednesday.

"Look I'm doing it," she yelled over the applause. "I'm doing it, Mom, I'm really doing it."

Kira was trailed by two spotters, both ready to provide a steadying hand on her bike. But Kira's got it, all on her own.

"The mamas are supposed to be quiet, but oh well, so much for the rules," said Doreen Sigman, director of the iCan Bike camp, where children with disabilities are learning this week how to ride bikes. "I don't know who wrote those rules anyway."

The iCan Bike Camp, taking place at Risley Middle School, aims to help children with disabilities experience the thrill of riding a conventional two-wheel bicycle on their own.

"These children, people tell them their whole life that they can't do this, they can't do that," said Heather English, one of 112 volunteers at the camp. "A lot of them think they'll never be able to ride a bike."

But when the children come to this camp, they're told the opposite. Instead, the volunteers tell them that by the end of the week, they'll be riding a two-wheel bike by themselves.

"On Monday, they're very timid, they're scared. They've tried this a hundred times with mom, and it means falling down and getting hurt," said Kristin Wallace, the camp's floor supervisor. "And as soon as they make that first lap and realize that they can do this, it's just an exciting thing for them. And then they just get more excited each day."

For daily 75-minute sessions, the campers work with the same volunteers, to help build trust as they learn to ride. They use special-made bikes that have rollers in place of back wheels, simulating a two-wheel bike better than one with training wheels would.

As the campers get better at riding, they eventually hop on standard two-wheel bikes.

Thirty children ages eight and up came out for this summer's camp, which is free for every child, thanks to donations from the community, Sigman said.

And at the end of the week, each child will receive a free bike to bring home, specially fitted for them and in a color they choose.

iCan Shine, a national organization, sponsors iCan Bike camps around the country all summer.

"(This program) gives them a sense of independence and self-confidence," said Wallace, a Satilla Marsh Elementary School teacher who works with iCan Shine. "It's just a way to do something that they've never done before."

Volunteers included parents and teachers, as well as education students from College of Coastal Georgia.

English, a sophomore education major at the college, said she volunteered at the camp for the same reason she plans to be a teacher — to give these children the education they deserve.

"My son is autistic, and I hate to say it but he's had some really crappy teachers," she said. "They don't take the time to invest in teaching him things. I never want another child to ever go through that. When they come through my classroom, they're going to know that they're loved and that I care about them."

She said the iCan Bike program changes the campers' lives.

"Confidence is something they'll carry with them for the rest of their lives, so this is such an important program," she said.

Tyler Deaver, a middle grades education major at the college, participated in the program 10 years ago. He decided to return this year as a volunteer because the camp had been such a significant experience in his own life.

"People don't realize that if you put a smile on their face, they'll never forget," Deaver said.

Parents' lives are altered by the camp as well, Wallace said.

Stephanie Castera, a camper's mother who also volunteered as a spotter all week, said the moment she first saw her son, Nicholas Bongiorno, riding his bike on Monday left her in tears.

"My heart exploded," she said.

Castera never believed before that her son would be able to ride a bike on his own, she said.

"He has been trying to learn how to ride a bike since he was five, and he's 13 now. He's about to be 14," she said.

Rather than send Nicholas's grandparents a video of him riding, Castera said she invited them to visit the camp this week to see it for themselves.

"I plan to bring a box of tissues," she said.

Reporter Lauren McDonald writes about education and other local topics. Contact her at lmcdonald@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 322.

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