Ten-year-old John Demeriez is relentless as he circles his bike around and around the fieldhouse at Pearkes Recreation Centre.
His volunteer partner, Nathan Wong, could use a break, but there will be no pit stop.
It’s the first time Demeriez has successfully ridden a bike in well over a year. Thanks to the iCan Shine bike camp, Demeriez is back in gear and eager to go.
“(Demeriez) gets around pretty fast,” says Wong, an 18-year-old University of Victoria student from Oak Bay. “It’s great exercise. I love it, it’s almost selfish how rewarding it is for me to see the kids learn to ride a bike.”
Wong paired with Demeriez all week and watched the North Saanich youngster progress from the most basic setting on the bike’s stabilizing roller – the key feature of the iCan Shine camp – to riding his own bike, newly purchased this week, without any stabilizing features. The stabilizing roller permits kids such as Demeriez, who struggles with balance issues, and children with disabilities to ride a bike.
About 80 per cent of participants can ride a two-wheel bicycle independently by the end of the five-day program, said Sharon Stangeland, camp co-director and Island Health physiotherapist at the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health in Saanich.
“Generally the nature of the disability dictates how long it will take a child to successfully [ride on two wheels],” Stangeland said. “I’ve seen some children take four years, as long as they’re willing to stick it out, it can be done.”
A row of happy parents watches from the edge of the fieldhouse, some seeing their children ride a bike for the first time.
The five-day iCan Shine bike camp is put on for kids and teens aged five to 17 with disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other disabilities affecting motor co-ordination. It runs this week and next at Pearkes.
Enrolment is 35 kids this year, up from 28 last year. Only a few come back, such as Demeriez, who attended two years ago but stopped riding last year following a crash.
“John needed to regain his confidence after a bad wipeout, and [in three days he] already got so much back,” said Demeriez’ mom Mary.
The children start with a cylindrical roller in place of the back wheel, which is then switched out with a series of tapered rollers as the child becomes accustomed to the trickier balancing act each requires. One or two volunteers serve as spotters for each rider.
The Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island, housed on the QA grounds in Saanich, contributed $15,000 to the iCan Shine bike camp, all from donations from the community, including a $5,000 gift from the GoodLife Kids Foundation.