On June 1, 2020 Shriners Hospitals for Children – Northern California launched its 2020 BikeFit Program. BikeFit is an annual summer program that outfits approximately 20 lucky Shriners patients with customized, adaptive bicycles that meet patients’ specific physical needs. Shriners Hospitals for Children medical and therapy staff refer patients to the BikeFit program throughout the year. Patients are accepted into the program based on their ability to ride an adaptive bike, their families’ ability to store and use the bike, and based on need.
“It’s really amazing to see kids experience the freedom of riding a bike for the first time,” says physical therapist and BikeFit program leader Laura Van Houtryve. “Some of our participants need support to walk, or may use a wheelchair. Riding a bike is such a joy for them, and a game changer for their freedom and mobility. A bike provides them with a piece of normalcy in their childhood.”
Thanks to the support of the community and generous donations, this summer will mark BikeFit’s fifth year in operation. This unique program offers adaptive bikes and training to patients at no cost to families. BikeFit participants are all patients of Shriners Hospitals for Children – Northern California and are typically between 5-16 years old, with a variety of medical conditions including cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, and orthopedic conditions. The BikeFit program is an annual summer fixture on the Shriners campus. BikeFit staff and participants are normally quite visible to other staff and passersby as they navigate their bikes on the hospital property in their team t-shirts calling out the BikeFit cheer.
In a typical year, patients are measured for their bikes in March and attend eight weekly sessions on the Shriners campus beginning in June. Participants then graduate from the program in August – at which time they take their new bikes home. The bikes are ordered by and built by AMBUCS, a nonprofit charitable adaptive bike organization. AMBUCS provides their Amtrykes bikes to Shriners’ BikeFit program at cost.
This year, however, BikeFit organizers modified the program to meet current COVID-19 social distancing precautions. Patients and families were scheduled two at a time for 1.5-hour introductory training sessions with BikeFit staff and a physical therapist. Participants were taught the basics of operating their bikes, hand signals to use while biking in the community and how to set personal bike riding goals for the summer. Participants also learned the BikeFit cheer.
Over the following eight weeks, families will complete a series of virtual training assignments from home. They will take photos to document their progress. The virtual assignments aim to make the children safe riders in the community and confident on their bikes. Families will also connect with fellow BikeFit participants via online social networking tools. The goal is to preserve some of the community building that comes with the in-person BikeFit experience of past years.
“One of the special things about this program is that both the kids and their parents form strong bonds with one another,” says Alejandra Gallardo, recreational therapist. “By the end of the program, the kids have formed deep friendships and the parents have connected in ways that continue well-beyond the eight weeks.”
The best part of the BikeFit program is that the patients take their custom bikes home, continue to strengthening their muscles, and increase their positive peer interactions beyond the hospital walls and into the community. Moreover, even in the midst of a global pandemic, 20 more patients will be outside riding their own bikes and meeting their goals