Have you ever felt the urge to ride a bike around a hotel ballroom? On a recent Saturday, 35 recipients of Amtryke therapeutic tricycles did just that during the Great American Amtryke Giveaway. The event was the capstone of the AMBUCS National Conference held Oct. 18–21 at Tan-Tar-A Resort in Osage Beach. AMBUCS is a nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to creating mobility and independence for people with disabilities.
"We're changing lives, not just the kid's life but the family's life," said Sue Haywood, a pediatric physical therapist from Texas who launched the Amtryke program in the 1990s. "I've had kids who couldn't crawl, roll over or walk, and within a few months of using the trike, they were walking by themselves."
Each AMBUCS chapter works with local therapists to identify children and veterans who could benefit from an adaptive tricycle. The AMBUCS volunteers and local therapists make sure those patients are correctly and safely fitted to the best Amtryke for them. At Lake Regional, occupational therapists Katie Kelley and Sarah Twenter helped connect 19 of their pediatric patients with the Amtryke Giveaway.
Kelley said Amtrykes can benefit children with a wide range of developmental delays and disabilities, and serve as a tool to motivate youngsters who sometimes grow bored with repetitious therapy exercises.
"When you're working with them on stretching and strengthening, and you're trying to make it fun, a bike is almost a given," Kelley said. "They just light up and take off! All of a sudden they're strengthening their core. They're strengthening their arms and legs and working on their coordination. In essence, they're performing more therapy in 10 minutes than we can work on in an hour."
For parents such as Osage Beach, Missouri, resident Tammy Scheiter, the mother of 10-year-old twin sons with Down syndrome, it's a priceless gift.
"I've looked into these types of bikes before, but they were so expensive and with two kids it was cost-prohibitive for us to even explore," Scheiter said. "We were thrilled when our occupational therapist at Lake Regional signed us up to receive bikes."
Scheiter struggled to hold back tears as she watched her sons, Brock and Gibson, take celebratory laps around the Tan-Tar-A ballroom, cheered on by the crowd and AMBUCS staff dressed as superheroes. "The opportunity for our kids to ride bicycles like their peers do is amazing," Scheiter said. "We can't wait to get them home to ride around the neighborhood and show everyone the progress they make over time."
Candice Schroeder of Roach, Missouri, looks forward to watching her 4-year-old daughter, Eliana, who has Erb's palsy, make gains in strength and flexibility while she enjoys rolling around the neighborhood.
"When she's at home, we work with her on stretches and reaching for objects, but we don't really have any equipment that can help her," Schroeder said. "This by far will be her favorite thing because it will not only be the most effective but it will also be the thing she looks forward to the most."
Eldon, Missouri, resident Tonya Stark shared her appreciation while watching her 9-year-old son, Owen, speed through his laps around the ballroom. As a toddler, Owen suffered a stroke due to pulmonary hypertension. Stark is hopeful the therapeutic trike will improve his ability to grip with his right hand and build strength in his arms and legs.
Stark says the independence of being able to ride around the block on his own will give a big boost to Owen's self-confidence.
"It makes me very happy that he can get out there now and ride bikes with his sister and the other kids," Stark said. "They asked him the first rule of safety and he responded, 'To go fast!'"
Nearly 30 years after designing the first Amtryke, Haywood said seeing the joy on the faces of the riders and their parents is a gift that keeps on giving.
"They just want an opportunity to be normal, to go outside with their peers and with their family," Haywood said. "Every time that bike starts moving, the look on their faces, that never gets old."
Lake Regional Occupational Therapy helps people of all ages lead independent and productive lives. Pediatric therapy focuses on fine motor tasks, self-care skills and sensory integration. To schedule an appointment with a Lake Regional occupational therapist, ask your doctor for a referral or call 573.302.2230. Visit www.lakeregional.com/PedsRehab to learn more and to watch a video from the giveaway event.
More about AMBUCS and the Amytrke program
Sue Haywood originally spearheaded the Amtryke program after seeing dramatic improvements in strength, muscle tone and self-confidence among her young patients, even when they had to take turns using a single bike that Haywood designed and built with the help of a mechanical engineer. The program gained momentum in 1995 when Haywood garnered the support of National AMBUCS. Today, AMBUCS provides close to 3,500 Amtrykes a year to children and veterans with disabilities.