Julie Spaulding of Kouts learns to ride a bike with the help of Jenna Giorgi and Joel O'Shea on Friday, June 27, 2014, during a week-long camp for children with Down syndrome put on by Chasing Dreams and I Can Shine at Boone Grove High School. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times Media
For more on Chasing Dreams, go to www.chasingdreams.org, or call (219) 299-9049.
Updated: July 29, 2014 6:12AM
VALPARAISO — Cries of “You can do it!” and “Keep those feet moving! You’ve got it!” rang out Friday from the parking lot behind Boone Grove High School.
Parents and volunteers alike clapped and cheered as children with special needs mastered the art of the two-wheeler, courtesy of I Can Shine, a bike-riding camp brought to the region through Chasing Dreams, a Valparaiso not-for-profit for families of children with Down syndrome.
Sue Price of Cedar Lake said she’s struggled for years to teach her son, J.D., 15, how to ride a bike.
“They actually did it. He’s riding a bike in five days,” she said laughing, as J.D. pedaled along with members of the Wheeler High School cross-country team cheering him on.
Price said J.D.’s fear of falling made teaching him how to ride a struggle. Through the I Can Shine program, which started Monday, children learn to ride on a bike with a thick roller instead of a back tire, which acts as a stabilizer.
Over the course of the program, the roller gets thinner and curves upward, so children learn gradually how to balance and, eventually, are able to ride their own bike.
“I want him to be like every other kid on the block and ride bikes,” Price said of J.D., who has Down syndrome. “I just want him to be a kid.”
This was the second year Chasing Dreams brought the bike program to the area. The lessons had 30 children last year and 30 again this year, the maximum, said Deanna Proimos, with Chasing Dreams.
Children this year came from Northwest Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Rensselaer and West Lafayette for the daily, 75-minute lessons.
“We’re excited to have the program again and continue the process,” she said, adding Chasing Dreams strives to give “as many opportunities as possible, and this is one of them.”
Richard Klein founded I Can Shine, and the first camp was held in 2001. Klein, who got his doctorate in mechanical engineering from Purdue University and went on to teach at the University of Illinois for 30 years, came up with the concept when he was teaching.
He has a shop in Alton, Illinois, where he lives, where he builds, repairs and stores the special bikes. This summer, I Can Shine will hold more than 80 camps in 32 states and three Canadian provinces.
“It’s very rewarding for me to impact and change the lives of children,” he said. “For children with disabilities, we have liberated the child.”
That was enough for Price.
“Once they discover they’re safe and can’t fall, they build their confidence,” she said. “It’s an awesome program. I’m glad they brought it here. This program is just unbelievable. It’s phenomenal.”