Colin, a 9-year-old special needs student from Orland Park, loved the bike ride he took in New Lenox on Monday. So much so, in fact, that he'd love to keep it.
"I'm going to buy my bike," he said.
He was one of 35 campers to begin the weeklong Lose the Training Wheels program, which helps teach children with disabilities to independently ride a two-wheel bicycle.
It's the fifth straight year that the District 843 Lincoln-Way Area Special Education cooperative has hosted the camp, which is part of a national program. The camp is being held at the gym in New Lenox.
The kids were clearly excited. During her first break, camper Natalie De Nova excitedly ran toward her mother shouting, "I did it!"
Others were a bit uneasy at first but had the helpful encouragement of the volunteers. After one camper said she didn't want to keep riding, one volunteer said, "The word 'no' isn't in our vocabulary today! Let's do a couple more laps."
Designed by Richard Klein, a former engineering professor at University of Illinois, the bikes feature a tapered roller for a back wheel, which provides stability but simulates the wobbles of a traditional bike as the roller ends grow more tapered. A long handle off the back of the bike allows volunteers to assist as needed with starting and stopping and turns until the rider has mastered those skills.
Campers move from the roller bike with a handle to a regular bike with a handle and hopefully, finally, to their own bike from home. Volunteers work in teams to spot the riders as they circle the gym during the 75-minute session.
At the end of the week, campers receive medals, biking licenses and certificates.
The camp is fulfilling for the volunteers, too. This year there are 62 volunteers. Joseph Moore, who previously worked at the , volunteered for the first time this year.
"It's a very good program," he said. "It forces them to be able to do something on their own, and it teaches them skills and is a form of therapy."
Heidi Curtis, a bus driver for District 843, also volunteered at the camp after working for Lose the Training Wheels before.
"I love seeing their faces," she said of the campers. "And seeing the 'I can' attitude, and them going from not being able to do something to actually doing it."
—Rachel Gilmore contributed to this article.