My son, Tom Baker, was the first child to have a Tomcat trike made for him. He is the reason why Tomcat is here and why thousands of children with special needs now know what it is to cycle.
He was diagnosed with Angelman’s Syndrome and curvature of his spine, which meant that before his trike, he was restricted to the home.
“Tom was such a wonderful, happy boy but when he did go outside he had to be accompanied or restrained because he had no sense of danger due to his learning difficulties.”
When I first met Bob Griffin – now my husband and the MD of Tomcat – I had a competitor’s special needs trike gathering dust in the garage (I won’t say who!). I used to sit Tom on it and wheel it up the road, but because he had very strong legs and no grasp of steering, he would career into bushes or off the curb: it really was back-breaking stuff. After about 100 yards we would give up and go home.
“With trike manufacturers at the time, it was like buying a dress; no advice on how to use it, no follow up, no nothing. Money changed hands and you were stuck with it.”
One day, Bob disappeared with Tom’s trike and came back with a steering system he had developed to adapt it. I couldn’t get over it: it worked and it was fantastic. Tom couldn’t walk very far, but the first time we went out on the trike, we went for over two miles. It was a huge achievement for him.
Tom’s new trike changed everything. He was suddenly able to participate in enjoyable activities like other children his age.
“The Carer Control at the back of the trike was fantastic: he thought he was in control of the trike, when of course I was. What a great sense of independence it gave him!”
A wheelchair was an option for him, but I wanted Tom to be able to move. The trike was the ideal solution as the exercise it gave him was so beneficial, not to mention all the positive knock-on effects of being out in the fresh air: the bowels, water works, appetite and sleeping pattern all improved dramatically.
“Weight can often be an issue for children with special needs when they are cooped up in the house all day, but the trike was great for keeping Tom’s weight down (and mine too incidentally).”
Now with the trike, Tom and I could go out for 3 or 4 miles at a time. I love walking, but it wasn’t something Tom and I could do together before his trike. Tom would cycle and I’d walk behind using the Carer Control. I love the thought of Tom cycling around the same beautiful Cotswold lanes that I did as a child. We fixed a mile-o-meter to his trike to keep track of how well we were doing… we had clocked up 350 miles! What a triumph.
“When you have a child with special needs, the thrill and celebration of achieving something is very important. When Tom was able to achieve even the smallest thing like pressing a knob, it was a big deal – even more so as it would often take him a while, sometimes years.”
I would always build him up and tell him how clever he was, because that’s exactly what he needed.
Tom achievements on his trike were phenomenal. The secret to his success lay in the custom building process: well, no two children are the same, are they? Even the same ‘diagnosis’ can manifest itself in different ways. Tom’s Headmaster had a similar view: ‘We don’t talk about conditions and syndromes here’, which I and many parents found a great comfort. He praised Tom’s trike and urged Bob to do the same for other children. Back then, special needs trikes were made in set sizes and sold off the shelf fitting averagely for some children rather than perfectly for one person. It was Bob’s promise to make each trike individually and make it it work as well as humanly possible, even back then.
“The Tomcat business wasn’t built to try and earn a buck… It started because there was such a need for this sort of trike for children like Tom, who needed Bob’s help because no one else cared enough to really change things. That has made Tomcat into the company you see here today and read so much about on the web.”
People are so obsessed with perfection and everyone wants to have perfect children. When I found out that my son Tom was very disabled, some people treated it like a disaster – ‘How on earth will you cope?!’
Because there was unease around the notion of disability, they couldn’t imagine being in that situation themselves; but the reality was quite different.
“The disabled community were welcoming, supportive; warm, wonderful, uninhibited people who haven’t been touched by nastiness and they have no expectation of anyone.”
Tom was incredibly special and was loved by all who knew him.
Tom died in his sleep when he was 23 years old.