Kym and Daryl Lambert of Washington County have discovered that bike trails are a great equalizer for their twin daughters who were born 13 weeks premature and have a number of developmental challenges.
Thanks to the Variety Children's Charity of Pittsburgh, their 11-year-old daughters, Kamryn and Kyara, received custom-made bicycles that they pedaled 4 miles on their first ride on a paved trail.
A second set of handlebars and handbrakes on the back of each three-wheeled bike allow mom and dad to control steering and speed if necessary as they walk behind.
"They have such smiles on their faces as we help them get on their bikes," Kym said. "We are so grateful to everyone who made this possible. We didn't know they made such bikes."
"For a child with a disability who struggles to skip, run or even walk, an adaptive bicycle can be transformative," said Charlie LaVallee, Variety's chief executive officer.
"We launched the 'My Bike' program to give children with disabilities the gift of typical childhood experiences, mobility and freedom. We want to ensure that children with disabilities can participate in the same activities so they can feel like any other child."
Until Kody Conley, 11, got his bike, he was "just a kid in a wheelchair," said his mother, Kim Conley of Canonsburg. "When he first rode his bike, the whole neighborhood went outside to watch and some kids hopped on their own bikes to ride with him.
"It was like a miracle," she said. "Everybody was so amazed that Kody could do something other than be in a wheelchair. It was like he was just this typical child riding a bike with a helmet on and being a normal child."
Jane Resh of Gibsonia said watching her son, Matthew, ride his bike for the first time "took my breath away. Every day when he comes home from school, he wants to ride his bike. He has made new friends in the neighborhood from riding his bike so much. Seeing the smile on his face when he is riding with all his friends just says it all."
Darsie O'Connell of Allison Park said her son, Alex, 15, was diagnosed with a seizure disorder when he was 1. He has "multiple disabilities, is non-verbal, has developmental delays and many issues which present daily life challenges."
When he first got his bike, he rode it in the garage every day. "Now he rides his bike around, and it has brought him pure joy and fun -- two things that should be fundamental in every child's life. Alex's bike has become his own personal biggest treasure."
Kamryn, Kyara, Kody, Matthew and Alex received their bikes as part of a pilot program. It was such a success that Variety officially announced the "My Bike" program Monday at a news conference at PNC Park. A bike costs about $1,800.
Kody rode his bike into the room and was greeted by Gov. Tom Corbett; Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, LaVallee, among others.
"Our goal is 200 bikes by Christmas," LaVallee said. "I know we can do it. We have 70 pledges so far."
For more information on sponsoring a bike or obtaining one for a special-needs child, visit www.varietypittsburgh.org or call 412-747-2680.
Larry Walsh writes about recreational bicycling for the Post-Gazette.