Riding for a cause: in front, twins Jill, left, and Shari DeGeorge; in back, left to right, Alex, and Lori Novak and Pam DeGeorge.
By Kathleen Ganster
It was big day at the DeGeorge house in Irwin when twins Jill and Shari were able to shed the training wheels from their bikes. The sisters, who each have Down syndrome, struggled to learn how to ride a bike -- but thanks to a program called Lose the Training Wheels, they were able to ride on their own, without the extra support.
Now they are going to help send off their mother, Pam DeGeorge, and the mothers of three others with Down syndrome, as they embark on a six-day bike ride to Washington, D.C. The women will then attend the annual national Down Syndrome Congress.
"When I saw this ride, I thought, 'This is a really good way to do a fundraiser and to ride into the convention,' " Mrs. DeGeorge said. The ride is approximately 213 miles.
Lose the Training Wheels is a national nonprofit based in Paoli, near Philadelphia, that provides weeklong camps for those with disabilities so they can learn how to ride a bike.
"It is often much harder for [those] with disabilities to have the coordination to ride a two-wheeler. [My daughters] went in 2009 when they were 18 and they just practiced, practiced and practiced until they got it," Mrs. DeGeorge said.
"This is something really special for us. The girls will ride the first few miles which will be great," she said. Her husband, Vince, and her daughters will meet her in Washington.
Mrs. DeGeorge and her daughters enjoyed the Lose the Training Wheels camp so much they have volunteered during the Pittsburgh program for the last two years.
The program was held in mid-June this year at The Children's Institute of Pittsburgh, site of the local camp.
"We feel it is a way to give back," Mrs. DeGeorge said.
Jane Keim, business development officer for The Children's Institute and liaison between the Institute and Lose the Training Wheels said, "Every year [participants] have a blast and parents are so appreciative."
The camp drew 35 participants in the 2012 camp at a cost of $150 per child.
The DeGeorges often ride on the rail trails that are part of the Greater Allegheny Passage, the route the women will use to ride to Washington.
Mrs. DeGeorge will be joined on the ride by Lori Novak of Murrysville, Chris Grove of Penn Trafford and Michelle Fedor of Belle Vernon. The women met through various programs for parents and children with Down syndrome, according to Mrs. DeGeorge, a nurse educator at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh UPMC. The group is raising funds and awareness for the Down Syndrome Center of Pittsburgh that is housed at Children's.
"The ride is Pedal 2 DC 4 DS," Mrs. DeGeorge said. The center provides families with children with Down syndrome support, health care and educational services.
To kick off their ride, the group will sponsor a fundraiser at the Pump House of Pittsburgh at the Water Front from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 14. The public is invited to enjoy food, music and other entertainment and ride with the riders as they begin their journey. Riders also are taking donations for the center. Currently, the group has raised more than $3,000.
Ms. Novak's son, Alex, 20, has Down syndrome. Although he didn't participate in the Lose the Wheels program, he, too, struggled with learning how to ride a bike and now enjoys it, particularly on a tandem bike.
Like Mrs. DeGeorge, she feels the ride is a great way to raise awareness.
The group will ride anywhere from 27 to 42 miles per day during the six-day trip and stay at hotels and bed and breakfast lodgings on the way. The riders pay their own expenses for the trip with all funds they raise going to the Down syndrome center.
Mrs. DeGeorge said they are looking for more riders for the trip. "The more we have, the more we can spread the word," she said.