Not every child learns to ride a bike, but the University of North Georgia is working with a national nonprofit to help more children do so.
The university’s departments of physical therapy and visual arts are teaming up with AMBUCS, a nonprofit that creates AmTrykes, or adaptive tricycles for children and adults with disabilities.
The partnership began when AMBUCS reached out to physical therapy professor Dr. Terrie Millard. They’d heard about her work with 3D printing and said the department would be a perfect fit for their adaptive tricycles.
“So what’s happened is some parents are going to set the community up and be involved with the community to raise funds for those who want access,” said Dr. Stephanie Palma, director of academic services and physical therapy professor. “We’ll do the fittings and any therapist that comes here or gets trained by us, we’ll teach them how to do it and fit a child.”
The physical therapy department at UNG has a community faculty practice where students can participate in treatment while learning from licensed physical therapists like Palma.
“We bring patients in, and the students get an opportunity to treat under us, as the licensees, in the class,” she said. “We watch them do their evaluation and treatment, so we can see it from a school setting.”
Now, the program will help train area therapists in adapting tricycles for their patients, and will utilize them in their own work.
Palma said the tricycles are not only a physical asset for children with disabilities, but they can be an emotional one as well.
“The bike gives them a sense of freedom that they haven’t experienced,” she said. “And it’s such good cardiopulmonary (exercise), whether they’re doing the hands or the legs, whichever bike we fit them with.”
Representatives from AMBUCS met with Palma and a group of second-year physical therapy students Thursday to go over the various AmTryke models.
“The youngest child we ever fit was 20 months,” said Kevin Sheehan, southern regional director for AMBUCS.
The largest AmTryke can accommodate a 6-foot-4 person, weighing as much as 300 pounds.
Depending on a child’s needs, there are AmTrykes with hand and pedal steering, only pedal steering, joint hand steering and much more. Each tricycle has specially designed safety features from headrests to straps and wide foot pedals.
The physical therapy department will work with the visual arts department to potentially 3D print tricycle parts specifically designed for patients.
The partnership could benefit not only children in the faculty practice, but the entire North Georgia region.
“We do not have a chapter in North Georgia,” Sheehan said. “Our closest chapter to (Gainesville) is in Griffin, but our hope is after today, we will begin the steps to establishing a chapter here.”
What sets AmTrykes apart from other adaptive tricycles is their versatility and cost. An AmTryke costs anywhere between $300-$600. Other adaptive tricycles custom-fit to a child can cost upward of $2,000.
AmTrykes also have more than two dozen different models, depending on a child’s capability. The first ever built was made for a 14-year-old girl who pedaled with one hand and steered with her chin.
“If you think about it, what does a bike mean when you’re a kid?” said Joe Copeland, executive director for national AMBUCS. “It’s a huge step. It’s an independence thing. It’s about being like other kids, having the wind in your hair, sensory things coming together.”
Palma said she’s thrilled the university can engage with the community in this way. It’s another way they can improve the lives of the children they treat.
“Just to see the smile on their face,” she said. “It just makes you say, ‘We nailed it today.’”