Will Cannon is rewarded with a broad smile from Mary Ruth Eielders at the iCan Bike Camp at the Taylors Recreational Center.
Lindsay Buckles, Development Specialist with the Eastside Family YMCA, gets a smile from a new bike rider.
Nikolas Ezman pedals while volunteer Nick Moody keeps pace.
iCan Bike Camp, a multi-state and international event coordinated through the iCan Shine non-profit foundation, is hosting its annual event this week. Children with varying disabilities from Down syndrome to autism are learning how to ride bicycles.
"We started as a non-profit called Lose the Training Wheels and in 2012 we turned it into iCan Shine knowing that we wanted to parlay it into other recreational activities," said Manda Krimmer with the national non-profit. "We also have iCan Swim and iCan Dance."
The participating children were filled with eagerness and exuberance and were all ready to learn.
"Four years ago we were approached by the Down Syndrome Family Alliance who heard about iCan Shine," said Lindsay Buckles, Development Specialist with the Eastside Family YMCA.
“DSFA wanted to bring it to Greenville but with their help from somebody else, who had the financial means as well as the volunteers who could help out with the camps, they approached the YMCA and we kind of made it happen."
The first camp took place four years ago with 40 riders. According to Buckles, the camp has an 80 percent success rate among participants.
Over 80 volunteers turned out to help the children learn how to ride a bike. One of them, Nick Moody, has been with iCan Bike in Taylors for all four years.
"It's really rewarding to see a kid go from being afraid of riding a bike to actually being confident in riding on a two-wheeled bike by themselves in just four or five days," said Moody. "It also shows how fortunate you are and it gives you some perspective in life when you see what these kids struggle with and go through every day."
Each rider has a 75-minute session daily Monday through Friday. The goal is to start each rider slowly with the help of a volunteer and graduate participants to riding on their own by the end of the week.
The program, through grant funding, also provides a bike and helmet for child to take home. This year marks the first time that there was no cost to participants.
"A lot of these families endure a lot of extra cost with their child's needs so for us to be able to provide them with a bike, it gives the kids independence and they learn a new skill that they never thought was possible," Buckles said. "It really helps the whole family dynamics and keeping them more active."
iCan Shine holds bike camps in 32 states and four Canadian provinces through working with local partners like the Eastside Family YMCA and Taylors First Baptist Church.
"Some of these kids are actually back for a second year because they need a refresher," said Moody. "They'll still remember you from last year. I spent an extra 15 minutes after one session talking to a kid about Star Wars just because they really fall in love with you helping them do something they're really excited about."
That excitement, hopefully, will turn into a skill that will last a lifetime.
"This job doesn't get old," said Krimmer. "This is probably my 20th or 25th camp at this point and it doesn't get old to watch."