Seniors rediscover joys of biking thanks to trishaws piloted by Cycling Without Age volunteers

Seniors rediscover joys of biking thanks to trishaws piloted by Cycling Without Age volunteers

  • Henry Reich and June Anderson at Brookdale Hawthorn Lakes Senior Living Center enjoy their Tuesday trishaw outings.

    Henry Reich and June Anderson at Brookdale Hawthorn Lakes Senior Living Center enjoy their Tuesday trishaw outings. Courtesy of Brookdale Hawthorn Lakes Senior Living

 
By Ralph Banasiak
Along for the Ride
Posted7/27/2021 6:00 AM

At age 90, Arlington Heights resident Rita Moody considered her cycling days long past. That is, until Elk Grove Village chapter of Cycling Without Age upended that notion, refreshing Moody's vivid wind-in-the-hair biking memories.

Their three-wheeled trishaw allows Moody to "bike" Busse Woods Forest Preserve effortlessly. Son Warren and wife Kim, trained "pilots" for the chapter, do all the legwork, so she relaxes, reliving the freedom and joy of cycling.

 

"It makes me kind of wish I could get out and pedal myself," Moody admits. "My husband and I put thousands of miles on our Fujis and Cannondales. I have three sisters, and we'd spend a week together every summer biking the Wisconsin countryside."

Movement since 2012

Operating since summer 2019, CWA Elk Grove Village is one of four Illinois chapters, with 2,500 worldwide. It is now a global movement in 50 countries,

CWA started in 2012 in Copenhagen when Ole Kassow offered rides to isolated and sedentary seniors.

Sarah Simmons initiated Elk Grove Village's chapter to fulfill internship requirements for a Master's in Public Health at Benedictine University. Kassow's TED talk on Cycling Without Age inspired her.

"As a frequent cyclist, I already had a vested interest in cycling and its health benefits," Simmons said. "This was a great way for personal, professional, and educational interests to intersect. CWA focuses on mental health, societal inclusion, and remaining active/engaged. It's a perfect opportunity to introduce a new program for the elderly and less able."

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Simmons offers a special free ride event from 9 to 11 a.m. Aug. 17 at the Busse Lake Boating Center. The Aug. 28 Busse Night Ride, hosted annually by Friends of Cycling in Elk Grove, will also feature the trishaw. FCEG supports the chapter with pilots and annual insurance payments.

Similarly inspired

Surrounded by Scandinavian bikers on recent travels, Deborah Goldsholl mentally noted cargo bikes transporting goods of all kinds. Later, WGN-TV's "Around Town" featured Cycling Without Age at a North Riverside senior center, stirring her inspiration.

Together with cyclist friend Barb Siegel, Goldsholl founded the North Shore Chicago chapter of Cycling Without Age, purchasing a Dutch trishaw in March 2020.

"When you see seniors alone and Cycling Without Age as something new and unique, combining biking with nature, it just seemed like the right thing to do," Goldsholl said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Since the shutdown ended, more than 140 passengers have enjoyed lakeside rides on Tuesdays at Brookdale Hawthorn Lake Senior Living in Vernon Hills, where the trishaw is parked.

"The residents do love it!" said Jennifer Brunkow, Brookdale's director of Resident Engagement Programs. "I knew it would be a hit here! Such a treat for our residents to get out and still enjoy the beautiful lake."

Social interactions lie at the heart of the program, as an excellent CWA article on the Active Transportation Alliance blog by Maya Norris describes. "It really allows the rider and volunteer to communicate." Siegel said. "It's not just about getting out and riding."

Easy to open up

Sarah Simmons treats columnist Ralph Banasiak to a great conversation on a Busse Woods trishaw ride.
Sarah Simmons treats columnist Ralph Banasiak to a great conversation on a Busse Woods trishaw ride. - Courtesy of Dave Simmons

I know that feeling. At Simmons' invitation, in mid-June I seat-belted into her trishaw, touring Busse Woods for this column. Having never met Simmons, it fascinated me how quickly we exchanged ideas. The leisurely pace, sideways rocking motion and nature's sensory pleasures all added to the conversation flow.

FCEG board member Ron Skleney latched onto CWA quickly.

"My mom was in a nursing home, so I spent many months visiting her regularly prior to lockdown," Skleney said. "The pandemic underscored how confined seniors are. As a pilot, I learned how easy it is to start a conversation. Just ask: 'So where did you grow up?'"

Pilot Michael Miller, with Cycle Brookfield, agreed.

"It's just a lovely time getting the folks telling stories. Quiet enough to start, residents normally don't say anything, but when we pedal into Riverside, they'll say, 'I used to shop here.'"

First Illinois chapter

Jim Boyle, fellow parishioner and former administrator at North Riverside's Caledonia Senior Living & Memory Care, recruited Miller as a pilot. Boyle spearheaded the first Illinois CWA chapter at Caledonia's campus in May 2019.

Per Caledonia's executive director, Gus Noble, Boyle saw a CWA video several years ago depicting two elderly ladies trishawing through Scotland's countryside, pedaled by a young Scotsman.

"Scotland is the first country to adopt Cycling Without Age as a government supported national initiative," Noble said. "It made perfect sense for the Chicago Scots, first nonprofit in Illinois, to launch Cycling Without Age's first chapter in Illinois."

Noble, also Chicago Scots president, echoes the pilot experience.

"I piloted a resident and her grandson for a community ride. She pointed out the church she attended, grocery store where she shopped, girlhood home and playground she visited."

Besides giving Caledonia's residents a lift, their trishaws, "The Scot" and "Myrtle," have seen service at the Chicago Scots' Highland Games in Itasca and in local community events.

McHenry County trishaws

Dolores Roti of Hebron enjoys a trishaw ride escorted by Peg and Jim Bolm of McHenry County Cycling Without Age.
Dolores Roti of Hebron enjoys a trishaw ride escorted by Peg and Jim Bolm of McHenry County Cycling Without Age. - Courtesy of Gregory Glover

About that same time, cyclist Greg Glover, retired AT&T system architect, founded the McHenry County chapter of Cycling Without Age with an active steering committee.

"Sharon Smith, director of the Harvard Senior Center, in 2019 provided critical advice and mentoring during initial planning," Glover said. "Others joined through the McHenry County Bicycle Club and word-of-mouth."

Their first trishaw, "Dolores," arrived June 2020, named for Hebron's Dolores Roti, who strapped in for its maiden voyage last August.

Their second, "Thomas," arrived this spring, named for a regular passenger, now deceased, who derived great joy from riding.

With about 50 trained pilots, Glover estimates the chapter has arranged 170 rides in 2021.

"We currently service six senior care facilities. We are particularly proud to give rides at Valley Hi, the county-owned nursing facility -- roughly 30 rides every two weeks. There's always a line of wheelchairs and walkers the moment we drive up!"

• Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at alongfortheridemail@gmail.com.

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