Sounds of cheering and clapping resonate from the New Harvest Church warehouse. Karen Ray watches as a young woman does laps around the floor on a two-wheel bicycle. The tears in Ray’s eye catch the light coming in from the open warehouse door. She watches with awe and admiration as this girl achieves something that was seemingly impossible just days before.
“This is the first time she’s done that this week,” Ray said. “She doesn’t even need help anymore.”
Learning to ride a bike is an accomplishment most children experience early on in life. When the participants of iCan Bike summer camp learn to ride a bike, it’s more of a miracle than a milestone.
“Without this program, there’s little to no possibility these people would ever learn to do something like this,” Ray said. “It’s a huge deal to them and to us.”
Karen Ray, director of iCan Bike Fresno-Clovis and mother of a disabled child, helped bring this program to the Valley three years ago. The mission of the iCan Bike program is to teach a disabled person how to ride a bike on their own after five days. 15-year-old Aaron Ray, was born with down syndrome and attended the Pasadena iCan Bike program four years ago.
“We just thought it was the most perfect thing for our son,” Ray said. “Not only Aaron, but for all kids with any kind of disability.”
After receiving the necessary funds, iCan Bike partnered with Central Valley Cycling Charitable Association. This organization raises money for charity by training cyclers for a 100-mile bike ride.
“Aaron and his dad Dan did 100 miles on a tandem bike together,” Ray said. “He was the only disabled person in that race and he finished. Some people without disabilities couldn’t even finish.”
Aaron Ray stands on the outside of the biking arena, cheering on those riding and high-fiving volunteers.
“When they finished that race I just broke down in tears,” Ray said. “He used to not even be able to get on a bike, let alone bike 100 miles.”
Dan Ray also joins Karen, remembering the training that went into biking 100 miles together.
“There were some days where we would spend four to five hours together just riding together,” Dan Ray said. “It was really hard but we got to spend so much quality time together.”
iCan Bike welcomes adults, which led them to also partner with The Arc of Fresno. The Arc of Fresno runs 12 different programs in the area specifically for disabled adults.
“This isn’t two separate communities, we are all in this together,” said Jamie Marrash, director of programs at The Arc of Fresno and coordinator at iCan Bike.
The Arc helps adults continue biking long after the program ends.
“We get to see some people ride their bike now instead of take the handicapped bus,” Marrash said.
19-year-old Savanna Emanuel, an adult iCan Bike participant, was able to ride a two-wheel bike on her own Wednesday.
“It’s important for me to learn how to be independent,” Emanuel said. “I want to be able to do stuff on my own too.”
“Savanna is autistic,” Ray said. “She went online and enrolled herself in camp. No one else made her be here, she chose to be here.”
iCan Bike has roughly 140 volunteers this summer. Tom Knott, 22, finds volunteer work rewarding.
“This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this,” Knott said. “It’s so incredibly rewarding, not just for the people learning to bike but for me. My rider Matthew has been so much fun to work with.”
Matthew rides by and smiles at those around him. People cheer him on and encourage him to keep riding.
“He is so much more confident,” Knott said.
Thanks to many local partnerships and donations, iCan Bike is able to run for two weeks. The program will finish this week at New Harvest Church and continue next week at Fresno City College.
“Having Aaron changed our life, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Dan Ray said, as Aaron high-fived a rider getting off their bike. “We are different and better people because of him. iCan Bike helps families like us everywhere.”