For the past four years, 8-year-old Ryan Laughlin of Highlands Ranch had been working his way up to riding a two-wheel bike without any help.
Ryan, who is challenged with a condition called dyspraxia — a neurological disorder in which his brain has difficulty communicating muscle movement with his body — accomplished that goal last week.
One of 40 campers at the iCan Bike Camp, hosted by the Highlands Ranch Community Association’s Therapeutic Recreation Program, Ryan finally put it all together, mastering the skill in the middle of an action-filled week.
“It’s pretty awesome,” he said with a smile, “and really sweaty.”
Ryan’s mother, Leigh Laughlin, first learned of the iCan Bike program — formerly known as Lose the Training Wheels — when Ryan was 4, and ever since has worked step for step with him on stationary and glider bikes, helping to prepare him for the camp that teaches mentally and physically challenged youths age 8 and older how to ride.
“For him, the challenge is putting together multiple movements, moving his arms, rotating his legs,” she said. “This program addresses all the issues in the order the body comprehends them. I had no idea what to expect, but was hoping for the best. It’s been real nice to watch him learn.”
The camp, in its fifth year in Highlands Ranch — the only site for iCan Bike in Colorado — offers each camper a daily 75-minute session Monday through Friday.
The kids start the week in the Eastridge gym, moving outside toward the middle to end of the week once they demonstrate the ability to ride inside. They transition through eight sizes of rollers on their bikes until they are only on two wheels. Each camper has at least one volunteer spotter within an arm’s reach at all times.
“It’s so rewarding seeing the improvement the kids make through the week,” said Matthew Vernon, a senior at Rock Canyon. “There is just so much joy. They are all nervous and scared when they first come in. Then they start gaining confidence and really having a blast. … Most of us take riding a bike for granted.”
Vernon, one of 90 volunteers at the camp, did one session last year, but was so inspired that he signed up this year to help at all five sessions that are held each day.
“It’s volunteers like Matthew that really make it go ’round,” said HRCA Therapeutic Recreation Supervisor Summer Aden. “We need two to three per kid.”