Remember how exciting it was to learn to ride a bike? Students in Wingate University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program get to relive that thrill vicariously by helping children with disabilities get fitted for custom-made tricycles.

Child with disability on hand-pedaled tricycle

Some Amtryke tricycles have hand pedals, for children with leg deficiencies.

For the past couple of years, Wingate DPT students have worked with Charlotte-based Queen City Trykes to provide specially constructed therapeutic tricycles for children who suffer from autism, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida and a range of other conditions. Wingate students are involved with fundraising and with evaluation days, in which kids are fitted for trikes, which are then custom built for them. The most recent such event they participated in was held on Dec. 2 in Mount Holly.

“All kids like to have fun the same way, and riding a bike is something we all learned to do growing up,” says Sadie Chuor, who will graduate on Saturday with a doctor of physical therapy degree. “When you have kids who have disabilities and restrictions, it’s nice to have them feel ‘normal’ too.”

The tricycles are supplied by Amtryke, LLC, which is owned by National AMBUCS, a nonprofit that specializes in creating mobility for people with disabilities. The vehicles were initially designed in response to requests from physical therapists and include features such as pneumatic tires, highly stable back wheels, adjustable seats and special handlebars. None of the trikes uses a typical chain drive, and some have both foot and hand pedals. One trike was specially built for a girl who had undergone several cardiac surgeries; it was fitted with a special cart to transport an oxygen tank.

Dr. Mary Swiggum, assistant professor in Wingate’s DPT program, first got her students involved in getting the trikes to kids two years ago. At CMC Union hospital in Monroe in 2015, several first- and second-year DPT students helped volunteers from Queen City Trykes measure children for their tailor-made vehicles.

Child with disability on tricycle

For some kids, bike evaluation days give them their first opportunity to ride a bike.

Before Swiggum got involved, Queen City Trykes was in a pretty dormant state. It had about $8,000 in the bank but was having trouble connecting kids in need with available vehicles. In stepped Swiggum and her students.

“We’re good at fundraising, but we don’t know how to fit the children,” says Pamela Ashley, a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley who founded Queen City Trykes in 2009 with one of her colleagues, Jim Harris. “Partnering with Wingate has changed things. We’re not worrying about, on the day of a giveaway, whether we have physical therapists helping us try to fit these children.

“(Dr. Swiggum) really revitalized Queen City Trykes. She helped us put that money to work giving more kids trikes.”

Good cause and good training

The giveaway/evaluation days are good practice for Wingate’s DPT students.

“On the bike evaluation day, it’s a matter of measuring the child, seeing how big they are, measuring their postural control,” Swiggum says. “Can they take a typical seat? Do they need a seat with a harness on it? Do they need a bike that they use their feet to move, or use their hands to move, or maybe both?”

It’s especially good training for students looking to go into pediatric physical therapy.

“The majority of our time (in the DPT program) is spent talking about adults,” says Meredith Ramsey, a 2016 WU DPT graduate who now works at Compleat Kidz Pediatric Therapy in Gastonia. “I think it was a great way to get hands-on experience in measuring a child for certain things, because that’s much different than telling an adult, ‘Sit here while I do this.’ You have to make things fun for kids.”

Laura Morton, another 2016 graduate, also works at Compleat Kidz in Gastonia, and she and Ramsey have both continued to volunteer with Queen City Trykes and now sit on its board. Morton is the organization’s secretary, and Ramsey handles social media.

Meredith Ramsey and child with disability on specially designed tricycle

Meredith Ramsey, right, a 2016 WU DPT graduate, is the social-media director for Queen City Trykes.

In that role, Ramsey’s job is to raise awareness about Queen City Trykes and, ultimately, raise money for it. In the month or so that she has been social-media director, Ramsey has created and started populating a Facebook page and an Instagram account. The pages are designed to make parents aware that the vehicles exist and to raise money for the tricycles, which range in cost from $500 to $1,400. Nine children are currently on the waiting list.

“The kids who need bikes are out there,” Swiggum says. “It’s a matter of getting the money to buy the bikes.”

In the past couple of years, Chuor says, Wingate DPT has raised about $2,500 at a couple of fundraisers. “It’s been hard,” Chuor says. “Our biggest hindrance is getting enough funds, because there are so many kids who want the bikes.”

The kids want the bikes because riding is fun and enables the kids to be mobile, independent and more social. But much like the way playing with Legos develops children’s fine motor skills, riding the Amtryke bikes can have therapeutic benefits beyond the “fun” aspect, such as improving core strength.

In fact, one group of students did a capstone project that showed how much the pedaling motionhelped with physical therapy on the legs, even if the arms are doing most of the work. “It’s good for that reciprocal movement, and a lot of that translates into walking,” Ramsey says.

To help supply a child with a trike, check out Queen City Trykes’ GoFundMe page.

Find out more about the hands-on learning opportunities with Wingate’s DPT program.

December 13, 2017