AS the second summer without in-person fundraising and recreation programs approaches, the Children’s Rehabilitation Foundation wait list for specialized bikes built for children with disabilities has more than doubled.
There are 25 children currently waiting for bikes; on most years, the number is around 10. Bikes can range from $1,500 to $6,500, are custom-built, and often include alterations for support and mobility.
The bikes are worth every cent for the limitless opportunities they can provide a child with disabilities, said Adell Gauthier, fund development manager and event co-ordinator for the foundation.
"A bike ride down the street, or even when bikes are used at school in gym class, they have incredible therapeutic benefits, physical benefits for children with disabilities," she said.
There’s an ever-present need for bike funding, as children grow and their needs change, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a new urgency. Fundraisers that would typically bring in thousands of dollars to the program have been cancelled, and programs the children would typically utilize in the summer have been shut down.
"In the year that we are in, with the lack of physical fundraising events that we’ve been able to have, it’s been increasingly difficult to fund these items as quickly as we could like," Gauthier said.
For many of the families the foundation works with, picking up a standard bike at a big-box store isn’t a feasible option — specialized units take weeks to build, and as the weather gets warmer, the foundation’s hoping more will be funded in time for kids to get outside.
"Part of our concern isn’t just about the funding, it’s about the time. We don’t want spring and summer to go by and for a child that’s been waiting for a bike to receive it when they can’t be outside using it," Gauthier said.
One family who knows the urgency all too well is Heather Lawless and her six-year-old son, Nolan, who uses a customized bike funded by a donor to the Children’s Rehabilitation Foundation.
Lawless said it was "heartbreaking" to learn more children are going without what has been an invaluable resource for Nolan.
"Whether you have the means or not to buy your kid a standard bike, there’s many ways that can happen for people of any means, but when it’s as specialized as this bike, that’s just not a thing," she said.
The bike Nolan uses is part of the therapy he receives, but its features aren’t just physical — Lawless said it has helped him connect with classmates, who will often join him on rides.
"It fills a gap in mobility he just does not have without the aid of this type of equipment," she said.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.