HITTING THE PAVEMENT
Twelve-year-old Connor Schilling just wanted to ride a bike in 2013.
Connor, who lives in Kittanning, has been through a lot in his short life, which made biking difficult.
He has Down syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and pervasive development disorder — which is part of the autism spectrum — and sensory issues, said his mother, Laura Schilling.
In addition, he was born with a heart defect and had to have corrective surgery at 2 months old.
But in April, Connor finally got to take a ride when he received a royal blue adaptive bike from the “My Bike” program, sponsored by Variety, a Pittsburgh-based children's charity.
Connor started on a tricycle with a modified seat, but he didn't have the lower body strength to pedal it. Laura Schilling and Connor's father, Steve, hooked a trailer bicycle onto his brother Ryan's bicycle so he could ride along — to no avail.
Their final attempt was a tandem bicycle so Connor could ride along with Ryan. But his feet couldn't reach the pedals, and Laura Schilling was afraid he would get caught in the bike's chain.
The Schilling family first heard of the My Bike program from the Down Syndrome Clinic at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh and through Connor's school, Clelian Heights School for Exceptional Children in Greensburg.
“When I heard about the program, I jumped because I knew it would be adaptive, so the bike would be just right for him,” Laura Shilling said.
Laura Shilling said she was thrilled when Variety approved Connor's application for a bike. She wanted him to be surprised when they gave him the bike in ACMH Hospital. But Connor caught on quickly when he saw his friends and the bikes.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Bike,' and made a hand motion like holding handlebars,” Schilling said. “He knew right away why he was there and that a bike was going to be his.”
Variety began the My Bike program in November 2012. It has distributed 385 bicycles, including 28 in Armstrong County.
Each one is customized with safety features for each child and is designed based on the child's disability, according to Variety CEO Charlie LaVallee.
Connor's adaptive bike has three wheels, a large seat, safety harnesses and modified handlebars, Shilling said.
Each bike costs $1,800 and is paid for through sponsorships, LaVallee said.
The organization has 140 adaptive bikes ready to be distributed, he said.
LaVallee said that donations can be designated by county.
“The whole dynamic of being able to do things together, with friends and family, and not being left out is what we're all about,” he said. “If everybody is riding their bike, and you can ride despite your disabilities, you're just another kid.”