By Edgar Mendez of the Journal Sentinel
Ja'Quan Harris, 10, used to sit in the window of his Milwaukee home looking out as neighborhood kids whizzed by on their bikes.
"He'd be upset because he wanted to be out there riding, too," said his mother, LaToya Silas.
Ja'Quan, who has cerebral palsy, needed an adaptive bike to join them.
"We tried finding one at Walmart, Kmart and Target, but there was none," Silas said.
Through a friend, Silas was referred to Variety Children's Charity, which partners with Emery's Cycle and Fitness Center, 9929 W. Lisbon Ave., to provide children and young adults with physical disabilities specialized bikes that would normally cost between $800 and $4,000.
Since their partnership began four years ago, Emery's has provided more than $30,000 in discounts on adaptive bikes to Variety, which purchases them for those who qualify.
About 100 kids have received adaptive bikes from Emery's through Variety, though the bike shop also builds adaptive bikes for other clients.
Having an adaptive bike provides children with disabilities and whose physical activities may be limited with independence, confidence and much-needed exercise, said Gerise LaSpisa, executive director at Variety.
"They're getting a physical workout and as they get older, the benefits of it will pay off," LaSpisa said.
Before Ja'Quan received his bike three years ago, he needed a walker to get around. Now, he walks without one.
Each morning, "he eats and then wants to get on that bike and ride with all the other kids," his mom said.
Ja'Quan's red, three-wheeled joy rider sits low to the ground and features an open-ended frame that allows him to sit down without having to lift his leg over the middle of the bike. Neighborhood kids, who call his bike "the lowrider," are always trying to ride it, said his mother.
"I tell them this is my bike," said Ja'Quan, smiling as he raises his arms and points toward his chest.
Brent Emery, co-owner of Emery's Cycling, said his shop has been providing adaptive bikes for people with physical limits or disabilities for decades. Emery, who took over the shop from his parents with his brother, Ben, is a former Olympic silver medalist, national champion and world record-holding cyclist who's competed all over the world.
And he was also born with physical limitations.
He said he's always had problems with coordination and hearing, and he has Osgood-Schlatter disease, also known as knobby knees.
"But I don't even consider those disabilities," Emery said. "Nothing compared to what these kids have overcome."
Emery is currently modifying a bike for a 10-year-old client of Variety's whose legs were blown off below the knees in Iraq. The bike has a lower base, hand brakes and pedals that work with smaller strokes, which will work best with the boy's prosthetics, Emery said.
Other adaptations include steering and brake systems in the back of bikes for parents who have children with poor decision-making skills, and bikes that are hand-pedaled. If there are no bike parts available that fit the needs of a specific child, Emery manufactures them himself in the back of the shop.
"The bikes I build are built based on capabilities, rather than limits," Emery said.
That involves two sessions: one for a bike fitting and the other to make needed adjustments once the bike has been adapted to the specific needs of the client.
Wearing black Jordan shorts and a black shirt, Ja'Quan rides out of the shop like a kid on a mission.
"Once his foot hits the pedal, he's gone," Silas said.
He was at the shop for a yearly tuneup, which included airing up the tires, a headset adjustment, tightening up the nuts and bolts and moving the seat back to adjust for Ja'Quan's growth.
Now, his bike, which shows normal signs of wear and tear, is ready for the summer. And Silas can enjoy watching her son on the other side of the window.
"It gives me great joy to know that his disability hasn't limited him and he can be out there with his friends."
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