The newly-launched “My Bike” program provides specially-adapted bicycles to children with disabilities in the 10-county greater Pittsburgh area. As of Monday morning 51 bikes were ready to go to children in need, by mid-afternoon, funding had been secured for 6 more. The bikes will go to kids like Kody Conley. His mother, Kim Conley, said when they moved into their neighborhood a year and a half ago, Kody was “just a kid in a wheelchair.” When he first rode his specialized bike, the whole neighborhood went outside to watch, and some kids hopped on their own bikes to ride with him.
“It was like a miracle, everybody was so amazed that Kody could do something other than be in a wheelchair. It was like he was just this typical child riding a bike with a helmet on and being a normal child,” said Conley.
Kody was at a program kick-off event Monday at PNC Park. He sat atop his bike with a huge smile on his face.
Each bike costs about $1,800 which puts them out of the price-range for many families of children with disabilities. That’s where Variety, the Children’s Charity of Pittsburgh comes in. The organization is giving the bikes to families in need – the funding for them comes from corporate and individual gifts. Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield has funded 10 of the bikes.
“President John F Kennedy once said, ‘nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.’ Now how many of you have ever thought about that? How many of you remember that childhood milestone? That when you first rode the bike – how exciting that was and the freedom you felt,” said Deborah Rice-Johnson, Highmark’s division president for health services and Variety Board president.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, Bayer, PNC, and numerous other businesses have agreed to fund adaptive bicycles. Variety has a goal of securing funding for 200 bikes by Christmas. Senior Vice President of PNC, Andrea Carelli said now the work to rally organizations around Pittsburgh begins.
“$1,800 is all it takes,” said Carelli, “so buy a wheel, buy a seat, a frame, whatever, but we are going to get organizations involved and it’s almost the holiday season, and $1,800 is doable for any organization.”
Carelli went on to add the effort helps children in more ways than one.
"It's more than just a physical thing they're going to be able to participate in. It's also a mental thing because it's a bike to have fun with, but they'll also be developing their muscles and just being able to go out and say hey! I'm going to go out and meet Sue with her bike," she said.
Governor Tom Corbett said funding 200 bikes is an ambitious effort, but echoed that it’s doable; he added the “My Bike” program will serve as a model.
“The supporters of Variety are in ten countries around the world. Wouldn’t it be great to see all 50 states have this program, all the territories of the United States and then to see these countries have the same program? It should not be a problem to do that once we demonstrate that this can be done,” he said.
Parents of children with disabilities or anyone who knows of a child who may be eligible for an adaptive bike is urged to contact Variety either at their website or by phone: 412-747-2680.