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Adaptive bikes to aid those with disabilities

Jeff Himler
| Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Wyatt Winter, 18 of Derry, races Westmoreland County Commissioner Ted Kopas after Winter received an adaptive bike through the Variety the Children’s Charity “My Bike” program on Sept. 1, 2016 in Greensburg.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Wyatt Winter, 18 of Derry, races Westmoreland County Commissioner Ted Kopas after Winter received an adaptive bike through the Variety the Children’s Charity “My Bike” program on Sept. 1, 2016 in Greensburg.
Wyatt Winter, 18 of Derry, with his mother Connie Shaffer, waits for other children catch up to him and Westmoreland County Commissioners Ted Kopas and Gina Cerilli after Winter received an adaptive bike through the Variety the Children’s Charity “My Bike” program on Sept. 1, 2016 in Greensburg.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Wyatt Winter, 18 of Derry, with his mother Connie Shaffer, waits for other children catch up to him and Westmoreland County Commissioners Ted Kopas and Gina Cerilli after Winter received an adaptive bike through the Variety the Children’s Charity “My Bike” program on Sept. 1, 2016 in Greensburg.
JJ Drescher, 18, of Sewickley Township, reacts with excitement as his mother Lauryl fastens the seatbelt of his new adaptive bike provided through the Variety the Children’s Charity “My Bike” program on Sept. 1, 2016, in Greensburg.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
JJ Drescher, 18, of Sewickley Township, reacts with excitement as his mother Lauryl fastens the seatbelt of his new adaptive bike provided through the Variety the Children’s Charity “My Bike” program on Sept. 1, 2016, in Greensburg.

Wyatt Winter couldn't wait to try his new bike in downtown Greensburg.

But his mother, Connie Shaffer of Derry, told him to be careful how he uses the rear cargo tray: “You're not allowed to haul the cats in it.”

Winter, 17, was among 10 Westmoreland County youths with disabilities who received customized adaptive bicycles, strollers or communication devices, presented by the Pittsburgh chapter of Variety The Children's Charity Thursday at the county courthouse.

Shaffer noted her son, who has Down syndrome, recently received one of the charity's iPad devices, fitted in an extra-rugged case and loaded with programs recommended by his speech therapist to help translate his thoughts into spoken phrases.

The therapist suggested the family apply for an adaptive bicycle, and Shaffer said it will be a great help for her son to fully participate in family outings: “This will be great. When we go camping, we can all ride our bikes.”

Chelsea Rager of Jeannette said a physical therapist suggested that her son, Mason Schultz, 9, apply for an adaptive bike so he can continue at home the benefit he gets from using a bike in therapy sessions.

Rager noted her son was gifted with a traditional bicycle late last year but was unable to use it when he was diagnosed with the rare Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, which involves hip pain and decreased blood flow to the hip joint.

With the adaptive version provided by Variety's My Bike program, Rager noted, “Now, he can be a normal kid again. It's a blessing.”

Like many of Variety's adaptive bikes, Mason's has three wheels. A padded handlebar shaped in a ring makes it easier for him to control. A separate handle at the rear gives Rager a way to grab ahold and regulate the boy's speed.

Now that he has a bike that is easier to use, Mason said, “I'll probably ride through the streets of Jeannette with my mom looking for Pokemon Go.”

Rager said the bike will help as her son continues to recover from surgery on his right hip. A stand converts it to a stationary bike for use indoors year-round.

Jason Drescher, 18, of Herminie received a stroller and iPad as well as a bike. A senior at Yough High School, he has cerebral palsy and autism and is mentally challenged.

His mother, Lauryl Drescher, said the bike will allow Jason to join his sister, Emma, 10, and father, Jason, on rides along local trails in Sutersville and West Newton: “It opens up a whole new set of things to do as far as mobility.”

The new stroller replaces a 15-year-old model that has failing brakes.

With the new stroller, she said, her son's trips to the grocery store will be a breeze compared to the effort it takes him to move under his own power in a walker.

“We can go through the whole Giant Eagle, not just the produce and the bakery sections,” she said.

Drescher noted the iPad will be the second at home for her son, allowing him to use one for communication, the other for entertainment.

One of the applications allows users like Jason to touch in sequence words to form phrases that are spoken in a computer-generated voice.

“He'll have more opportunities to make his wishes known to us and to talk to strangers out in the community,” Drescher said.

Variety CEO Charles P. LaVallee said the charity has matched 1,100 disabled children in the region with customized bikes since it initiated the My Bike program in November 2012. Responding to families' needs, it has branched out to offer strollers and iPads and has expanded its operations from 10 counties to 50, including 10 in West Virginia.

With Thursday's' presentation, the charity has assisted more than 100 Westmoreland children. But, he said, a study completed by the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health indicated there are at least 1,230 children in the county with Down syndrome, autism or cerebral palsy who might benefit from Variety programs.

To qualify, children must be ages 4-21, and their families must meet income guidelines.

To cap the presentation, the young recipients paraded across the courtyard accompanied by parents and the county commissioners.

“Every kid should ride a bike, and programs like this make it possible,” Commissioner Ted Kopas said. “They deserve every opportunity to ride along with their peers.”

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622 or jhimler@tribweb.com.

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