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Pine charity gives adaptive bikes to kids with disabilities

| Wednesday, July 22, 2015, 1:21 p.m.

Exceptional described both the cycles and riders who recently traveled from five counties for a bike giveaway in Pine.

Jacob Bartolowits, 12, of Shaler, who has cerebral palsy, instantly knew how to maneuver his new blue, $1,800 Rifton adaptive tricycle.

“I didn't have to tell him to use both hands,' said Jacob's mother, Khrissy Bartolowits. “He has limited us of his left side, and he used both hands so well.”

Nervous Nikolai Howe, 8, of Carnegie, who has Down syndrome, immediately stopped crying after getting on his similar new bike.

“Once we started moving, it was like turning off a switch,” said his father, John Howe.

“I was overwhelmed by the experience,” Howe said about his son's reaction to receiving one of 11 beribboned, specially equipped cycles distributed July 15 at the Allegheny Health Network's Wexford Health + Wellness Pavilion in Pine.

Variety the Children's Charity, based in Pine, gave away the adaptive bicycles through its signature My Bike program.

Such cycles routinely come with modified handlebars and seats, foot straps and bars that allow a companion to help steer or stop the cycle.

At the July 15 giveaway, each gift cycle also came with a stationary stand.

“The kids will be able to pedal in place all year-round,” Variety Pittsburgh CEO Charles LaVallee said.

The Pittsburgh chapter is the founding chapter in the organization which stretches worldwide.

The organization traces its roots to East Liberty in 1927.

Children from around the region received the individually ordered red, blue, raspberry- and lime-colored cycles.

“Now they can go and hang with other kids in their neighborhoods,” Jeff Carlson, president of Wexford Health + Wellness Pavilion, told the dozens of parents, grandparents and siblings who accompanied the bike recipients.

Roman Ulrich, 7, of Etna, who has Dravet syndrome, also got an adaptive bike at the July 15 bike giveaway, but Roman initially resisted taking a ride.

“He doesn't like to be strapped in. He does not like the helmet,” Roman's mother, Jamie Ricca, said.

“I know he likes it,” she said about Roman's new bike.

Since 2012, Variety the Children's Charity has given away about 850 adaptive bikes to disabled young people, age 4 to 21, in 32 counties in Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Many of the children have autism, cerebral palsy or Down syndrome.

Variety purchases the adaptive bikes with donations from foundations, corporations and individuals.

Rifton, an upstate New York manufacturer of adaptive equipment, makes the bikes.

Blackburn's in Tarentum, a supplier of home medical equipment, processes each bike order.

“Each bike is individually made,” LaVallee said.

Variety the Children's Charity seeks more than 100 applicants for Rifton adaptive bikes.

“We want to make sure that every family who could benefit and is eligible can apply for a bike,” Variety Pittsburgh chapter spokesman Zach Marsh said. “We have 150 (bikes) available, already sponsored. All we need are the children.

“These bikes make it possible for a child to ride a bike who might not have been able to ride a typical bike,” Marsh said, citing a key mission of Variety the Children's Charity.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or

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