Local child gets ‘wings’ for Christmas

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“It was like she was given wings,” said Cindy Rose, mother of 8-year-old Callie Rose.

Callie was born with cerebral palsy, a motor condition affecting her physical ability and development. The North Strabane Township girl received an early Christmas present in November in the form of an adaptive bike through the MyBike program of the Pittsburgh-based Variety, the Children’s Charity.

For the past few years, she was able to move around on a small child’s tricycle but started to outgrow the three-wheeler a few months earlier. Her physical therapists suggested she send an application to the MyBike program to receive a new adaptive bike designed specifically to circumvent her physical disabilities. After testing several adaptive bikes at Children’s Therapy Center in Washington, her therapists found the proper-sized adaptive bike and determined what features she would need.

The next step in the process involved Callie and her family meeting a few basic requirements established by Variety and filling out an application. She was notified only two days after filing the application that she would be receiving a brand new, fully customized adaptive bike through the program funded by Pittsburgh area hospitals, professional sports teams including the Pirates and Penguins, and other local businesses and charitable organizations.

The bike was designed, ordered and ready to be picked up at a gala in downtown Pittsburgh in November, less than a month later. Cindy was impressed with the quick turnaround, which is not always the case when dealing with specialized medical equipment. She recalled a time when her daughter needed a seat for the bathtub; it took five months to order, manufacture and ship.

“Normally for this specialized medical equipment, it takes weeks or even months,” she said. “This happened so fast, it was incredible.”

Variety CEO Charlie LaVallee custom orders every adaptive bike from a medical supply company based in New York, specific to the child’s need. He ordered a bike with a pulley system to keep the pedals level, as Callie had a tendency to point her toes forward while riding her tricycle, making it difficult to pedal at times. Most importantly, Callie was able to pick out the color of her new set of wheels, a decision that took little time.

“She walked up to me and said, ‘Charlie! Charlie! Look at my nails; they match my new bike,’” LaVallee said.

Callie picked a flashy lime green finish, and her mother painted her nails to match on the day she received her adaptive bike. When she first climbed on with her matching manicure, a contagious smile spread across her face and she exclaimed, “Look at me! I am so awesome!”

The new adaptive bike was the perfect early Christmas present. For the first time in her life, Callie was able to go to North Strabane Park and not only ride with her friends, but keep up with them all on her own.

“She’s had an adult with her through pretty much everything for her whole life,” Cindy said. “It was really like she’d been given wings and was able to go on her own.”

Callie rode her new bike for hours. When she finally returned home, she was sore from the long day of pedaling and using muscles she’d never really used before. Cindy said Callie tossed and turned and squirmed trying to find a comfortable spot in her bed when she tucked her in that night, but the smile never left her face.

On Monday, LaVallee and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced funding was available for 140 new adaptive bikes for children with disabilities in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Since Callie received her bike, Variety has surpassed its goal of 500 bikes. With the announcement Monday, 525 adaptive bikes have been pledged or sponsored. Currently, the organization is asking for help to identify eligible children who would benefit from an adaptive bike.

LaVallee said the adaptive bikes allow children with disabilities to feel included and to be able to ride a bike just like any other child. Callie has a lot of riding planned when the weather warms up.

“She feels like she’s flying,” Cindy said. “She likes to go fast. The faster the better.”

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