Summer is here, and it’s time to go biking. No one is more excited than 10-year-old Joey Hitzeman who just received a brand-new, custom-made bike.
Hitzeman was born with cerebral palsy, a condition that impacts his ability to control movement, balance and posture. He gets around in a power wheelchair that he operates with his head, so the idea that he could experience life on a bike may seem far-fetched.
Hitzeman has had several bikes that have allowed him to experience cycling, although his mother, Karen, says his parents generally had to walk alongside him when he rode. With two other sons—William, 12, and Joey’s twin, Peter—the family was looking for a way to be active together. Karen began researching other biking options, and when it became clear that Hitzeman would need a custom design, she brought her ideas to Larry Faulkner, owner of Green Bay Cycles in Winnetka. Faulkner has built several other adaptive bikes.
In designing Hitzeman’s bike, Faulkner met with the family to understand their needs. Hitzeman suffers from seizures, so Karen wanted a bike that would allow her to see him from down the street. She was also concerned about getting him on and off the bike without falling.
Faulkner and his team went to work. “We brainstormed with the shop guys to find the best solution. In this case it was two Sun Bicycles recumbents, attached with a Blackbird Bikes kit [which allows the bikes to be attached side by side],” he says, adding: “I love the glow of happiness that comes over a kid who gets the chance to ride a bike when they didn’t think it was possible.”
“When we picked up the bike at Green Bay Cycles, I have never seen Joey happier or more excited,” Karen recalls.
“This bike is opening up his world. He can ride with friends and be more independent. If he fatigues, he is able to just hang out and let his partner do the work.” explains Karen.
The Hitzemans live in a neighborhood with little traffic allowing them to bike on the streets, although Joey is very eager to bike “outside the neighborhood!” he says.
The bike—which Hitzeman describes as “just like my personality: humorous and fun!”—has opened up the world of possibilities not only for Hitzeman but for his family. “Not only can he bike with us and get the benefits of the exercise,” Karen explains. “This is really helpful to our family. Joey’s brothers regularly have to compromise their needs to accommodate his limitations. They do this so often, and in such a loving way, that as parents, we are so thrilled that Joey can actually fully participate in a family outing that we all enjoy.”
According to Dr. Deb Graeble-Spira, Joey’s physician at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, biking is a low- impact way for children who have CP and leg alignment difficulty to strengthen the trunk and hips, gain endurance and most importantly- have fun.
“The children get to experience movement and accomplishment,” Graeble-Spira says. “The setting is a natural fun way for them to engage with peers and the outdoors.”
As I was finishing up my pictures and our discussion, Joey was obviously eager to get out on the road for a ride alongside his dad. He was all smiles as they headed out for a pre-dinner ride with his twin, Peter, biking next to him. A local bike trail is next.
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