TWIN FALLS — When 8-year-old Hailey Lopez rides her adaptive bike it stretches and exercises her muscles and allows her to fully enjoy all the abilities she possesses.
And it lets her spirit and imagination soar.
Hailey was born prematurely at just over 26 weeks, which brought complications that caused cerebral palsy. For Hailey, cerebral palsy means mostly physical challenges and using a walker and a wheelchair for mobility.
“Every kid or person should be able to ride a bike,” said Hailey’s father, Nestor Lopez. “It’s one of the joys in life.”
Sometimes, she likes to pretend the bike is a horse galloping about and has remarked it was time to put it away in the barn, which is the family’s garage.
The bike was specially adapted to meet her needs by Adaptive Cycling of Southern Idaho, a non-profit organization that provides customized AmTrykes to children and adults who need them across the Magic Valley, and beyond.
On average the organization delivers about 15 adaptive bikes to people each year, Jan Yingst, Adaptive Cycling of Southern Idaho president said.
Yingst, a physical therapist spearheaded the organization in 2015 in response to the needs of her clients.
The organization is part of the national non-profit AMBUCS Inc.
The Magic Valley program is funded through grants and donations, but the COVID-19 pandemic really took a toll on the group’s ability to raise money.
“None of the money goes to the national organization, all of the money stays here,” Yingst said.
The group’s board consists of therapists and family members of people who have received bikes.
All of their volunteers, she said, are unpaid.
“It is really a grassroots approach,” Yingst said.
The names of people who would benefit from an adaptive bike are placed on a list, and the group tries to deliver the bikes to Magic Valley residents first. If people from outside the region request assistance, they try to find a group closer to them to help. If none are available and the Adaptive Cycling has the resources, it will still offer assistance to them, Yingst said.
As children outgrow a bike, parents give it back to the group and they receive a new one. The bike donated back to the group is refurbished and fitted for a new owner.
Hailey has received three bikes.
“The program is just awesome,” said Hailey’s mother, Rosy Lopez. “The bike allows her to go outside and play with her little sister, which is great.”
Rosy works at Summit Dental Care in Twin Falls, which took on a project to build a bike at their office and deliver it to a Boise boy, and Nestor’s company, D.L. Evans Bank, recently donated two bikes to Mini-Cassia residents.
Nestor, who serves as treasurer on Adaptive Cycling’s board, said when Hailey first received a bike she didn’t have the mobility or strength to propel it and they had to help by pushing her.
But the bike, which offers customized support for Hailey, helped strengthen her muscles, and now she can ride it on her own.
“It’s been fun to see her progress,” Rosy said. When Hailey rides the bike it stretches out her muscles, which get tight from cerebral palsy.
The day after she rides, her mobility is noticeably better, she said.
The physical benefits of the bike are complemented by its ability to foster her imagination and allow her to dream of more possibilities in her life, Nestor said.
“We hadn’t seen that part of her develop before,” he said.
Emily Petersen, of Kimberly, said her 11-year-old daughter Ellie, got her first bike at about 3 years old.
Ellie was born with spina bifida, which affects her mobility.
Because Ellie’s legs are paralyzed, her bike was adapted to her needs and she pedals with her hands, but her legs are attached to pedals so it keeps her leg muscles moving.
She has received a couple of bikes so far and is ready to transition to another one.
“That first bike opened up so much confidence and possibilities for Ellie to try to figure out how to do more. When anyone learns to ride their first bike they feel automatic independence and hope,” Emily said.
While Ellie uses a wheelchair, Emily said, now she also rides horses and swims every week.
She keeps moving and finds ways to adapt and live her life.
Ellie is also passionate about advocating for herself and has visited the Idaho State House to talk with legislators and spoke with legislators last fall when they were in Twin Falls.
The program, Emily said, allows her daughter to enjoy more of what life has to offer. Having the bikes increased Ellie’s confidence, and now she’s also climbing rock walls.
The bike, Emily said, started it all.
“We all want those experiences in life and we are forever grateful to Adaptive Cycling of Southern Idaho,” Emily said.