LONGVIEW, Wash. -- Inside the Cowlitz County Expo Center, children with special needs have gathered to ride bikes.
“Wanna hop on? You can ride it," said a volunteer.
Ashley Flitcroft is here to refine a skill that her mother hopes will last a lifetime. “Pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal Ashley, pedal!” yells her mom. Kim Flitcroft is proud of her daughter. “Yeah! She's awesome... I've seen wonders," she said.
Ashley is one of 32 kids who will ride specially designed bikes, 75 minutes a day, over the next week. With volunteers at their sides, the children begin riding big circles inside the Expo Center with a wide stable roller for a back tire.
As they kids get comfortable, the rollers are switched while the rider is distracted getting a drink of water. The new roller is less stable, requiring better balance. Ashley's on her third roller in just an hour. “Go Ashley, go Ashley, go!" yells her 17-year-old brother Tyler.
The camp is put on by a national group called "Lose The Training Wheels," along with local sponsors and organizers. Its mission is to teach individuals with disabilities to ride a conventional, two-wheeled bicycle. The group believes the riders gain independence, confidence and self reliance that can last a lifetime.
The camp in Longview draws families from all over. Anna Heitmeyer, who has Down Syndrome, is here with her parents from the Corvallis area.
Aiden Blackwelder is from Battle Ground. “I like riding my bike!" yells the 7-year-old as he cruises past. Aiden has a high functioning form of autism. His mom hopes bike riding will help him connect with other kids, too.
“Often times my son's sitting off on the side on the curb while his friends are riding their bikes because he can’t,” said Heidi Blackwelder.
The dance between the mind and the muscles required to balance a bike is challenging for any child. Throw in special needs and the difficulty becomes formidable. But here in this special camp, the bicycle ball is underway and Aiden is catching on.
“It’s awesome!” said Heidi. “It just, it melts my heart. It’s very exciting to see him out there and feeling confident. A big 'ole smile on his face!"
Sally Bartlett oversees the camp in Longview. Her daughter has Down Syndrome and will join the afternoon session as she works to master the skill. “I like seeing the kids pop up on the two wheels and see their parents who say we've been trying forever and this is the first time they've done it!” she said.
Bartlett said typically, 80% of the kids will be able to safely ride two-wheeled bikes by the end of the week.
Ashley's getting there. The 12-year-old has overcome long odds after suffering brain damage from a blood disease as an infant. Her mother could not be more proud.
“She's starting to finally talk. And they told us she would never talk, never walk, and look at her today,” Kim Flitcroft said.