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Sandy Journal

CycleAbility teaches special needs students to ride a bike

Apr 04, 2018 03:24PM ● By Greg James

CycleAbility riders are congratulated for their accomplishments with awards and smiles. (Rachel Warner/CycleAbility)

Elijah Palmer had a desire to ride his two-wheeled bike with his high school bicycling team. As a special needs student he had never had that opportunity. His parents, Draper residents Steven and Sally Palmer set out and organized the first week-long camp to help other special needs students enjoy the experience of riding a bike.

In its fourth year, CycleAbility has again partnered with iCanShine, a nonprofit with specialized bikes, to host the annual Cyclpoolaza June 25–29 at Summit Academy High School in Bluffdale.

“Elijah wanted to race in the high school league,” CycleAbility director Rachel Warner said. “He has autism and did not know how to ride a bike. With his family and the Utah High School Mountain Bike League (UHSCL) in 2015 they started the Elevate Program with an adapted course in conjunction with the high school races.”

Learning to ride a bike is a life-improving experience, but helping someone can be even more life changing. Teaching a child without a disability can be difficult and working with children with disabilities is a challenge, but CycleAbility has found a way to bridge the gap to adaptive cycling.

“We have kids with coordination challenges, anxiety, autism, Down syndrome and behavioral issues. It is our fourth year and we take 40 kids every year. We need several volunteers to help us,” Warner said.

Each rider is allocated at least two spotters that walk and run alongside as well as offer moral support and help. The bikes are specialized roller bikes that teach balance gradually rather than a normal two-wheeled bike.

Other volunteer positions include registration help, photographers, videographers and people to help with setup and cleanup. 

“Each rider works with his spotters during 75-minute sessions each day. They start in the gym and graduate to a tandem bike with a staff member and then hopefully graduate to their own personal two-wheel bike outside in the parking lot,” Warner said.

The UHSCL was organized in 2011 and is an affiliate league of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association for riders grades 7–12. CycleAbility accepts 40 riders ages 8–18 in their week-long camp and the cost is $150.

“It is a seamless next step for our riders when they get old enough to start racing with the league in the Elevate program,” Warner said. “Elijah was team manager and the kids loved working with him. Many of the high school kids come and volunteer during our week camp. The families are very supportive.”

Corner Canyon, Fremont, Summit Academy and Alta high schools have been supporters of the program. They have had riders included in the camp and have worked as volunteers.

Elijah graduated from high school last June. He partipated in the mountain biking league riding a full course. As he finished his last race the announcers asked him how he had done and he said jubilantly, “I won.”

“This program helps kids overcome challenges that they never thought they would be able to. It is empowering them into the normative world. We have about an 85 percent success rate,” Warner said.

CycleAbility has several donors that help with costs of equipment, sponsor riders and space rental including Coldwell Banker, Bountiful Bicycle, DNA Cycling and the Autism Council of Utah.

“Learning to ride a bike gives these kids a sense of freedom and independence. One of our parents told me  their son loves his bike so much, but every once in a while they find him riding to the grocery store down the street,” Warner said. “The kids ride away with big smiles on their faces and our volunteers come away with lasting memories as well.”

If you are interested in the program or would like more information about volunteering, visit