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Photo from the 2013 summer Biking for Everyone course

Riding High:

Course backed by Pacific Cycle makes biking accessible to children with disabilities

Tim Gattenby is a glass-is-half-full type of guy who brings his own brand of upbeat energy and perspective to his post as coordinator of adaptive fitness and personal training with UW–Madison’s Department of Kinesiology.

“Our motto is, ‘We leave our perceptions of limitations outside these doors,’ ” Gattenby says while walking around a gym at the UW Natatorium, helping people with a range of disabilities find ways to become more active during an adaptive fitness course. “And we really live by that philosophy.”

It’s an outlook that can be especially beneficial to young people with injuries or disabilities, and their families.

That’s the impetus behind this summer’s Biking for Everyone course, which is a unique eight-week class that’s designed to help kids with disabilities learn how to ride. This program is run through the Department of Kinesiology’s adaptive physical fitness program, and is made possible thanks to generous support from Pacific Cycle, which is headquartered in Madison and sells more bicycles than any other company in North America.

Photo from 2013 Biking for Everyone course“Madison is really renowned for having great, safe places to ride,” says Gattenby. “But I’m the type of person who is always looking for holes and gaps and what’s not being done. So this is an effort to help people who maybe bike differently or who don’t have a chance to learn to bike to join in on the fun.”

Last summer, Gattenby helped launch an adapted fitness pilot project for children with physical disabilities that was designed to teach kids about a range of fun fitness activities — including how to ride a bicycle. The initiative came about following a request from a team with the American Family Children’s Hospital that was searching for innovative ways to improve the recovery and health of their patients.

Unlike many kids, children with physical disabilities often do not get the extra attention and help they need to learn to play sports or become active. Last summer’s pilot course introduced 14 students to activities including martial arts, rock climbing, break dancing and more. And because Gattenby is an experienced bike builder and certified bike fitter, he was able to make many of the modifications necessary to help the children in the course start riding.

The success and positive outcomes of that 2012 pilot program led Gattenby to propose a Biking For Everyone course in 2013, which could provide an opportunity for up to 20 boys and girls during the summer.

But during these economically challenging times, this program only became a reality after Pacific Cycle and its global general manager, Jeffrey Rogers, committed to donating:

• Twenty bikes with frames suitable for riders age 6 to 12;

• $5,000 to help fund the program and provide scholarships for students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford the summer session;

• Bike helmets, knee and elbow pads;

• And the expertise to choose the proper bike and make the necessary alterations so children can ride.

Students say 'Thank you' to Pacific Cycle for backing the class“Pacific Cycle’s involvement is just a wonderful gift, because this program can be life-changing for the whole family,” says Gattenby. “Oftentimes, parents of children who are disabled don’t even realize what is out there and possible. Biking is an especially exciting activity because it’s social, it’s fun and it’s something a family can do together throughout a lifetime.”

Thanks to efforts such as this summer class, the adaptive physical education program has become a valuable public service and outreach initiative through the Department of Kinesiology. This program works closely with those in the community who have permanent or temporary physical disabilities. It helps them improve their health and independence via greater strength and functionality, and increases confidence in their abilities.

This Department of Kinesiology program also serves as a central hub that helps connect services, sports and individuals to empower the community and offer an effective way to spread adapted fitness activities around the area and across the state.

“A lot of the clients we are able to work with here really have their entire lives changed and turned around,” says Gattenby. “I have people with brand new injuries, like a severed spinal cord, and they’re now smiling and happy and more fit than they may have ever been in their lives even without an injury. We have clients whose bodies are transformed who now are living healthy lifestyles.”

Pullquote from Tim GattenbyThis drive to improve the lives of those living with disabilities or trying to bounce back from physical injuries is rooted in personal experience for Gattenby, who was a physically fit and active college undergraduate in the 1980s when he broke both legs in a skydiving accident. Doctors told Gattenby the injury would limit his performance moving forward.

“That early diagnosis made me upset,” says Gattenby, who has been on the UW–Madison campus since 1986. “It took several years and a lot of creative therapies that I made myself, but I discovered how adaptable the body is and how it can bounce back with a lot of resilience. I’ve gone on to numerous national and world competitions, and I don’t know if I would have done that if I didn’t have that little chip on my shoulder.”

Gattenby has twice qualified for the World Ironman Championship in Hawaii, and once placed third in the National 24-Hour Challenge bike ride competition by covering 427 miles, among numerous other endurance sports accomplishments.

He also was part of the team that designed the Ironman and helped write the winning bid for Ironman Wisconsin, which has taken place in Madison and the surrounding communities during late summer since 2002.

Today, however, Gattenby is likely most well known for his ongoing efforts to help those with a range of disabilities become more active and fit via the Department of Kinesiology’s adaptive training courses. Adapted Physical Education is a concentration within the department’s undergraduate Physical Education Teacher Preparation program.

“We are training students in kinesiology who are going to go on to medical school or be physician assistants and occupational and physical therapists, and this experience is opening their eyes to what is possible for their patients,” says Gattenby, who is a driving force behind Madison’s growing adaptive fitness movement. “It shows them the importance of not setting limitations and so they come out of this class with a real different philosophy and attitude toward working with people with disabilities.”
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