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People With Disabilities Find ‘Turbo Mode’ At Tampa Bike Camp

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Leonardo Santos
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

iCanBike Tampa Bay recruited more than 50 volunteers to assist riders — many of them children and young adults — on a one-on-one basis.

Nathan Proctor is finding out that he loves riding his bicycle.

“I like when I go fast and all the wind is in my hair and such.”

But Nathan did not have the best experience when he first started to learn how to ride.

“I tried to ride a bike in kindergarten, but after I fell down, my kindergarten brain decided to never touch a bike again,” Nathan said.

The 11-year-old, who has an autism spectrum disorder, is participating in the iCan Bike Tampa Bay week-long camp that teaches individuals with disabilities how to ride bicycles.

Held at the University Area CDC, the camp is being hosted by Bike/Walk Tampa Bay and the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research.

Around 25 people between the ages of nine and 24 are taking part, and more than 50 local volunteers are serving as spotters each day.

Liz McDermott builds and maintains bikes at the REI bike shop in South Tampa.

“I wanted the opportunity to kind of see how to teach how to ride a bike and I’m always looking for a good way to volunteer and connect with the community,” McDermott said.

Volunteers were paired with individual participants for the whole week to ensure they received personalized attention. McDermott was paired with Nathan. She said that he improved quickly.

“When he first came in, he was like, ‘Oh, I've never ridden a bike since kindergarten and I was very scared.’ And then on the second day, he was like, ‘I'm so excited to be here!’” McDermott said.

On that second day, he was so excited that he pedaled to a higher speed he calls “turbo mode.”

The camp was first inspired by Heidi Ferraro, a local advocate for people with disabilities.

Julie Bond, the Program Director for Bike/Walk Tampa, said that Ferraro’s son, who has special needs, showed her how important it was to go through first-time experiences with him.

“Heidi knew how important it was for her son to learn how to ride a bike, and she wanted to bring that to other kids,” Bond said.

Although Ferraro created the camp, she unfortunately did not see it happen. The coronavirus pandemic canceled last year’s event, and Ferraro passed away from cancer in June 2020.

Bond said that if Ferraro was there, she would be happy because of the impact it’s making on the children.

“Just seeing their faces and seeing their families, it's just so exciting, it's so meaningful to them.”

Cindy Proctor is the mother of Nathan and Emily, who is also moderately autistic and participated in the camp. She believes that it’s a great opportunity for her children.

“It’s giving them hope that they can do something that they’ve worked on for many years,” Proctor said. “We’re hoping that now they have the confidence to keep doing it, and If they fall, to get back up and know that they can do it.”

“I’m hopeful that this will make a big difference in their lives, build confidence and give them more independence.”

And that independence comes with one more important benefit for Nathan.

“I can go around with less carbon emissions, because cars usually produce carbon emissions,” he said.

iCan Bike Tampa Bay concludes Friday, when families will see their kids graduate from the camp.

Copyright 2021 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Jacob Wentz
Leonardo Santos