SMETHPORT — Kora Anderson, 7, of Kane, sat on her new pink bike with its big red bow, ready to go for a cruise through the halls of Smethport Area High School Tuesday.
Her smile was brighter than the pink paint job.
“Kora, are you ready to go?” asked her dad, Keith Anderson.
“YEAH!” she replied.
Kora’s feet were buckled onto the pedals, and she was buckled into the seat, grudgingly wearing a bicycle helmet. Her dad was standing behind the bike, holding onto the rear steering bar, while Kora kept her hands firmly on the handlebars.
Mom Holly and little brother Trace stood by, watching with smiles on their faces.
“We can go for family bike rides now,” Holly Anderson said, smiling brightly, eyes shimmering with happy tears.
This wasn’t just any other day for this family. This was the day Kora received her custom made “My Bike” Rifton adaptive bicycle from Variety, The Children’s Charity. “I think it’s incredible,” Holly Anderson said. “It gives these kids so much opportunity to be ‘typical.’”
Cooper Chaffin, 6, and his mom Stacey, from St. Marys, were testing out his new bike, too. His was red.
Watching Cooper place his teddy bear inside the buckles for the foot pedals, Stacey Chaffin said, “He will be able to keep up with his cousins. They ride by the house, and he looks out the window,” she said, trailing off.
It’s hard to watch your child be unable to take part in activities with other children due to a disability. Now, with his new adaptive bike, Cooper can “ride bikes like a typical kid.”
Stacey Chaffin said she’s been working on teaching Cooper the pedal motion of bicycle riding. These bikes are pushed and steered from the back with a steering bar, and the children’s feet are buckled onto the pedals, so the pedaling motion will be taught as the child grows more familiar with his or her bike.
“I love it,” Chaffin said. “There’s no more bending over to push him.”
Elliott Wingard and his mother Jennifer, from St. Marys, were trying out his bicycle, too. His smile was effervescent.
Charlie LaVallee, CEO of Variety, was every bit as excited as the children at the event. Ten families from the counties served by the Intermediate Unit 9 were given pieces of adaptive equipment — six bikes, two strollers and two communication devices.
The total worth of the adaptive equipment is $16,200 — and it is all provided by Variety at no cost to families.
George Lindquist, 4, and his mother Amanda, of Kane, joined the parade with George’s blue bike.
“George is a fun-loving, happy, determined little boy that loves to keep up with everything everyone is doing around him,” his mother said. “Two years ago, his dad and I purchased a Radio Flyer tricycle for him so we could push him, but it has never worked. He quickly outgrew it, and he has always struggled to keep his right hand and foot in their places.
“When he began using the trikes at his preschool and outpatient therapies, we were so excited to see him so excited and happy,” she said. “We’re so excited that George is receiving his new bike, and we know he will be, too.”
LaVallee stood in the hall at Smethport school, where the presentations were made, and watched the children and families parade past staff with the IU9, all of whom were cheering on the children.
“Their joy has changed me,” he said, growing emotional. He told a story of a 13-year-old girl with Down syndrome whose mother drove an hour to take her for a fitting for a bike. The mother wasn’t sure if it would work, but the girl — Emily — was determined. She started riding and yelled for her mom to call her father. She did, and gave Emily the phone. Emily told her dad she was riding a bike, and asked, “Are you proud of me?”
When the call was over, Emily told LaVallee, “He says he’s proud of me.”
As he recounted the story, LaVallee fought back emotion, but a tear or two slipped out.
“She felt good about herself,” he said. “That makes it all worthwhile.
“We need to listen with our heads and our hearts. There shouldn’t be a child who goes without.”
Angie Keller Sorg, a Bradford native who lives in St. Marys, is a physical therapist. LaVallee credited her with connecting families with Variety.
“This is what it’s all about,” she said, gesturing to the happy families learning about their new adaptive devices. “The kids, the smiles, the parents.”
The bikes came with stationary stands, too, so they can be used inside as a type of physical therapy.
Variety is always taking applications. Children and youth from 3 to 21 years of age with documented mental, physical or sensory disabilities who meet the generous income guidelines may be eligible.
For a family of four, the income eligibility is a maximum of $128,750. Elk, McKean, Cameron and Potter counties are all within the Pittsburgh organization’s service area.
Go to Variety’s website www.varietypittsburgh.org for more information or for an application.