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Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Bike Ride Worth Remembering

Hours after my first ride on a hand-cycle with the Pennsylvania Center for Adaptive Sports my chest still feels the best workout its ever had, my arms still feel weak, I know I’ll probably fall asleep minutes after my head hits the pillow despite missing several innings of today’s game of the week on Fox due to intense study of the back of my eyelids, and all I really want to do is get back on the bike.

I had no idea what to expect as I headed down this morning, my mom having offered a ride. (I actually drive, but generally not into Philly, though I may be able to handle this particular commute.) I was hoping to get a chance to ride a recumbent 3-wheel bike with foot pedals, but realistically I would have been happy just to get some information on one.

I arrived to find that the program had no such bike and there was no sign of the only person who knew I was coming. Soon enough, though, the woman in charge for the day, Jane, was helping me figure out what I could ride. All I had to do was fill out a simple release form.

That was it. A clearly dedicated group of volunteers that had never heard of me minutes earlier had one goal in mind – getting me out on a bike. No big evaluation period, no questions about OVR or Social Security or anything, no commitment to show up every week, not even a request to pay the small seasonal fee (which I certainly plan to do). Just a chance to ride a bike. One brave soul was even ready to take me on a tandem, 2-wheel recumbent. I wasn’t nearly that brave.

Eventually, I decided to try the thing I’d been searching for an alternative to for months – a hand-cycle. As I’ve explained in e-mail after e-mail researching adaptive bikes, I have cerebral palsy, but I've ridden the stationary bike for years and I'd like to see if there's a bike I can actually ride outdoors. I figured I’d need the 3-wheel type with a seat with a back and foot straps on the pedals. My legs are actually better for a bike than my arms. I was hoping I might actually be able to rent one or try one out before I had to buy, as I'm not sure I can even use one.

But, I was there, it was the best fit for me based on what they had, and they seemed like a bunch of nice, every day people (or maybe better than “every day” people). So, I took a shot. With my left arm being much more spastic than my right, I wasn’t sure I’d get three feet.

Instead, according to a volunteer I only know as Reid who went with me, I went about three miles. Granted, I wasn’t setting any speed records, and I’m pretty sure a slow jogger could have passed me, but I rode a bike for three miles.

I went out on a street in Philadelphia and under my own power went three miles on a bike. That may seem like no big deal, but as someone who has met brick wall after brick wall looking for activity in my life, it was anything but “no big deal.” It was good exercise out in the fresh air. I felt alive in a way I rarely experience, sharing the road with other bikers – able-bodied and disabled. Instead of watching a digital read out or the five TVs at the gym, I was passing actual trees and a river.

Typically, I’m not the guy that puts on a bubbly smile and tells the world to just get out there and do it. In fact, I’d generally like to slap those people. I’ve seen too many programs not deliver. I’ve faced too much prejudice. I’ve spent too many days being too able for this group and not able enough for that group. It’s real, it happens, and people who want to pretend it doesn’t allow the public to think the biggest issue in the disability community is deciding whether to call us disabled or people with disabilities.

But, for me, today was a day to put all of those issues on hold. I got to enjoy what many get to do any time they want, and it was thanks to true advocates – a rare breed – and access to recreational assistive technology that I learned I could use because I got the chance to try it.

Today I simply enjoyed a bike ride down a Philadelphia street.

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