MMI's PEDALS program teaches bike riding skills

by Karen Burbach, UNMC public affairs | August 21, 2003

picture disc.
Michaela Schwartz participates in MMI's PEDALS program.
Although, bike riding is a breeze for Rosanne Schwartz and her husband, Mike, who have logged hundreds of miles on a single trip, mastering a two-wheeler has been a challenge for their 10-year-old daughter.

Until now.

Michaela is among 20 children and adults with special needs participating in PEDALS, a new program offered by the UNMC Munroe-Meyer Institute's physical therapy department. After a handful of lessons, Michaela is discovering the joys of being able to ride on two wheels.

"Michaela will never be a basketball or volleyball player, but she can ride a bicycle to stay fit all of her life," said her mother. "After bicycle riding, we plan to encourage Michaela to try roller skates."

Pedaling toward independence

PEDALS, funded by the MMI Women's Guild, helps children and adults gain independence by teaching them to ride a two-wheeled bike. Participants have ranged in age from seven to 21 since the program started in January.

"Many children with mild to moderate motor delays have the potential to ride a bike, but have been frustrated because it is more difficult for them," said MMI physical therapist Regina Harbourne. "It's really great when they get it. It's an empowering skill that will help them keep fit. They're so proud they can do it and join other children in an activity."

picture disc.
Michaela Schwartz with her mom, Rosanne.
Children learn at their own pace

PEDALS participants, many of whom have Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, developmental delay, hypotonia or ADHD, attend weekly sessions until they're pedaling across the Center for Healthy Living gymnasium floor. It may take one or multiple lessons, said Harbourne, who teaches the class along with MMI physical therapist Heidi Reelfs.

At 9-months old, Randy Bell was unable to lift his head. He has had developmental problems ever since, said his mother, Pat. "We had put his bicycle in the attic," she said.

Today, the 12-year-old PEDALS student is able to stay on a bicycle without training wheels, his mother said.

Bike riding is a complex skill

Bike riding is a complex skill requiring the integration of vision, limb sense, strength, coordination, balance, endurance, information processing, attention and handling of the bike in various situations, Harbourne said. "Children with motor challenges need someone to analyze where they are having difficulty, help them discover strategies that work for them, and tell them what support is needed for a time before they can expect changes," she said.

PEDALS participants must be able to walk without an assisted device and follow simple commands. During the program, participants master approximately 35 sub-skills ranging from using the kick stand to walking beside the bicycle through a door.

As part of the program, MMI staff members are developing a specialized training wheel, which allows them to adjust how flexible it is.

For more information

Anyone interested in learning more about PEDALS, should call MMI physical therapy at 559-6415.