by Lauren Roth from the Orlando Sentinel:
Zane Paul, 16, had never learned to ride a bicycle. His father died of cancer when Zane was 4, and he was too scared to try riding after that.
When he was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at the end of third grade, his mother thought he would never learn to ride.
"I figured that was not the worst thing. He walks; he talks," said his mother, Debbie Medina.
But when she found out that the Down Syndrome Foundation of Florida was sponsoring a week of iCan Bike camp, she signed up immediately.
The camp travels the country teaching bike-riding skills to disabled children and adults ages 8 and older. It first stopped in Orlando last year.
Monica Chandler brought her two older sons to camp then. This year, she brought her oldest back and enrolled her two youngest sons.
Tyler, 12, has Down syndrome; Ethan, 10, has Tourette's syndrome; and twins Wesley and Logan, 8, have developmental delays.
On Friday, the last day of camp, both Wesley and Logan were riding two-wheelers without a spotter.
Chandler's eyes widened as she saw Wesley's spotter back off for the first time. He pedaled solo across the parking lot at Freedom High School. "Good job, Wesley!" she shouted.
"Can you believe it?" she said to the other parents. "He was only on training wheels a few times, and now he's by himself."
Then she watched Logan take off on his own. "This is incredible," she said.
Now that all four boys can ride, she wants to bike together as a family.
Tyler was pedaling with a slight wobble as a volunteer spotter stood nearby. His low muscle tone makes it harder for him to control the bike, his mother said.
She hopes a bicycle will provide Tyler with a measure of independence as an adult.
"He'll be able to get on a bike and go to the store," she said.
The camp, which cost the Down Syndrome Foundation $14,000 to bring to Orlando, includes special training bikes for 40 riders, as well as two to three trained staffers. Families paid $50 to $150 per camper.
The riders start out on bikes with a modified rear wheel. The back gear is connected to a rubber roller in the shape of a rolling pin. The roller provides more stability than traditional training wheels. As the riders become more comfortable steering, the staff switches to rollers that are more and more tapered, requiring more independent control.
By Wednesday, many riders switch to two-wheelers with a spotter, and by Friday, 80 percent to 85 percent can ride independently, said Donovan Bryan, an iCan Bike staffer from Fort Wayne, Ind., who managed the Orlando camp.
Although he had been noncommittal about riding a bike, Zane immediately bonded with volunteer Eric Bunn over "Star Wars," "Star Trek," "Transformers" and movie scores. "I don't think he knew he was riding. We were just chatting the whole time," Bunn said.
"He was always there when I needed his help, and now we're good friends," said Zane, a rising junior at Freedom High.
Zane was on a regular bike by Wednesday, and on Friday he was pedaling around the parking lot without any help.
"I feel like I can go miles and hours without stopping," he said, a hand on his yellow-and-blue Sun retro cruiser.
"We have taught way more than bike riding this week," said Camille Gardiner, a founder of the Down Syndrome Foundation. "It's confidence."
"It's heart," added Medina, Zane's mother. "His heart has changed. You feel like Superman when you conquer something you're afraid of."
Zane's sister Bailey, 17, served as a spotter to another rider all week.
When it was time to go inside for a recognition ceremony, Zane was one of the last riders circling the parking lot. He slowed to a stop next to his sister. They high-fived, and she leaned in for a hug.
Their mother snapped a picture.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5120. Follow her on Twitter @RothLauren.
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