The perfect approach
Joe is 12 years old. He has Down syndrome, a condition that continues to be the most common chromosomal disorder. Each year, about 6,000 babies are born with Down syndrome, which is about 1 in every 700 babies born (ref CDC Prevention)
Joe initially began his ‘cycling journey’ on a balance bike, but struggled with pedaling and control. His parents looked at different options, and in doing so sought the advice of a local charity that supports children with special needs. The charity recommended getting in touch with Tomcat, and as the saying goes, the rest is history!
“When the Tomcat representative came to assess Joe, which included measuring him, and specifying what type of trike was suitable, we felt the approach was just right.” David, Joes’ father.
Tomcat has worked and innovated with the disabled community and professionals to find a way to solve ever more challenging problems. In doing so, Tomcat has changed the lives of many who thought that cycling was entirely beyond their reach. David explains,
“Joe always had lots of energy, but struggled to walk most distances (he would often just sit down in the middle of a short walk with the family) and couldn’t master a scooter to accompany his 3 siblings. As they began to ride bikes, he tried and gave up – becoming increasingly frustrated.”
“Being able to cycle on the trike removed the stigma for Joe and allowed him to join his siblings on wheels, it also helped him to develop cycling skills in a safe way – his core sitting position and balance weren’t great to begin with so the strapped-in seating position coupled with the perfect upright riding position gave him the best opportunity to start. He hadn’t been able to master pedaling before – even on bikes with stabilizers – thus having his feet strapped in (with the elastic to help him) was so helpful to get him started with cycling. Once he got the hang of pedaling and riding with his siblings we noticed in the first year that his core strength and stamina really improved, and along with it his spatial awareness and confidence to ride on a variety of terrains.”
A learning curve for everyone
As Joe grew in confidence he also began to ride too fast; something that his parents had to manage, without hindering Joe’s development.
“We really had to run to keep up at times, “said David, “and it took a bump or two for Joe to learn to judge the appropriate speed for differing conditions. The charity Wheels-for-all really helped, they use a local athletics track on a Saturday afternoon and Joe would ride his trike (and various others) around the track which built up his confidence and stamina in a safe environment.”
After 18 months Joe and his family mostly cycled in their local park without the carer control arm attached, another milestone overcome! And Mum or Dad were able to ride their bikes too (rather than puff and pant as they ran behind)!
As the months passed the family’s confidence grew and they started to wonder if it was time to take it that one stage further, and so the question was posed to the Tomcat technical team about converting the existing trike from a fixed wheel trike (effectively removing back-pedal braking) Experts in their field, the Tomcat team explained to the family that Joe really needed to be able to fully master braking for himself first. The family understood why, and so made it their goal and focus – practicing emergency stops relentlessly!
“Later in 2016 we used a larger balance bike alongside the Tomcat trike to help Joe balance on two wheels as well,” explains David, “many children seem to just get the hang of riding a bike in a day or two, but for Joe it has been a series of very small and faltering steps – aided by carefully designed equipment – over two or three years.”
“It’s great news that Joe has achieved this big step in his life and I’m really pleased that his parents attribute his success to his Tomcat, but as always, what interests me is why?
During assessments, we often hear the comment that the only trike a child has managed to ride is a Tomcat, and whilst that’s very rewarding, it’s not by magic. There is always a reason; the trick is to understand what is making the difference and improving on it.
With a generic demo – where you have to accept some compromises – it’s usually down to trike weight, good geometry, and good engineering in that order, but through custom building, we can always achieve better. Down’s syndrome, however, is a fairly straightforward condition for us, with the physical implications usually limited to dealing with shorter stature and stockiness and keeping hip dislocation in mind when specifying the crank length and gear ratio, but all in all, we wish that all kids were as easy to help.”
From trike to bike!
“Joe’s been riding for the last week with increasing confidence and we feel it would be sensible to take the trike away as soon as possible so that he isn’t tempted to regress,” said David.
“The independence that cycling with his siblings will give Joe is just fabulous, and we definitely put it down to the support of our local charity and the design/training of the Tomcat trike.”
Joe and his family have donated their trike to Tomcat’s Give & Take scheme – an initiative that allows us to service the returned trike and then donate it to a school, charity, or hospital so it can benefit many, many other children. Meanwhile, Joe has not looked back since riding his two-wheel bike!
“We are riding every week at the moment and letting him choose the route where possible, trying to build confidence, says David, “ We’ve had a couple of bumps and small knocks to confidence but so far he keeps getting back on the bike!
We hope to try a few gentle bike trails over the summer once we know that Joe’s comfortable. His favourite reward for a good ride at the moment is racing down a big grass hill at our local park.”
Bob Griffin concludes,
“I think the real star of Joe’s story is Joe himself for keeping on trying, and his mum and dad for their dogged determination to see him succeed. We see it so often in the families who come to us for help and it is always moving. Perhaps that’s the real magic in Joe’s story. Well done everyone!”