Bike Camp brings simple joy to children with special needs

Joan Goodchild

But a camp sponsored by Emerson Hospital’s Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies wants to change that. The camp, run by iCan Shine, a national non-profit organization, teaches individuals with special needs to ride a conventional two-wheel bicycle through its iCan Bike program.

“It’s a creative and safe environment for those who don’t learn in the typical way that other kids do,” said Sarah Attridge, DPT, Pediatric Physical Therapist, Emerson Hospital, a coordinator of the program.

The camp is in its fifth year and will take place during April school vacation week, April 20-24. Held at Lawrence Academy in Groton, the camp is open to those who are at least 8 years old, have special needs and are able to walk without an assistive device.

Trained counselors and spotters work individually with campers to teach them how to ride a conventional bike. Attridge said the camp has 38 riders every April vacation and there are 140-150 volunteers working with participants for a ratio of 2-3 volunteers per rider.

Using adapted bicycle equipment, volunteers and trained professionals, including pediatric physical therapists from Emerson, work closely with each camper to help them meet their goals of biking independently.

Most riders come from surrounding towns, but there are also campers from as far away as New Hampshire and Cape Cod.

Attridge said annually about 80 percent of campers leave with the skills to ride a bike independently. The other 20 percent make significant gains and sometimes return the following year to continue their progress.

“Parents testimonials have been great,” said Attridge. “We usually have four to eight returning riders. And we have a lot of adults and children who come back to volunteer, which speaks to the camaraderie of the camp.”

Attridge said many volunteers come from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, but the camp also needs teen volunteers who can run for about 20-30 minutes at a time. Student athletes are ideal, can earn community service hours, and will enjoy the experience of making a positive impact on helping someone learn to ride a bike.

“The overall goal is to increase the self-esteem of the rider and provide them with life-long activity they can participate in in the community,” says Attridge. “Whether on the beach or in the neighborhood, riding a bike is one of the most exciting developmental milestones - it gives children a wonderful outlet for exercise and freedom and is an activity that families can enjoy together.”

Participants must be able to attend the same 75-minute daily session during each of the five days of camp. Parents and caregivers are required to stay during their camper's 75-minute session where they can observe from the sidelines. For more information and for campers and volunteers to register, visit:, or call 978-589-6922 or email