Weekly program brings free adaptive cycling to Bronxites with disabilities at Williamsbridge Oval

Nancy Briggs, who had a stroke about a year ago, tries adaptive cycling for the first time on Wednesday, May 18, alongside John Wilson, who had a stroke 13 years ago.
Photo Adrian Childress

It’s been almost a year since Nancy Briggs, 69, had a stroke and couldn’t move the right side of her body.

The Co-op City resident had to learn how to walk again, and although she is working on her strength, she gets tired walking short distances, so she typically uses a wheelchair to get from place to place.

“I wasn’t depressed but I was feeling down because I was used to being ambulatory and doing everything on my own,” she said in an interview with the Bronx Times.

Her new Wednesday routine, however, has left her feeling upbeat.

A new program launched on May 18 in the Bronx, which offers free weekly adaptive cycling sessions to people with disabilities with trained staff and volunteer guides at the Williamsbridge Oval.

The program run by Achilles International in partnership with Citi Bike — which is owned by Lyft — takes place weekly on Wednesdays through the first week in November. Francesco Magisano, the NYC metro region director for Achilles International told the Bronx Times the goal is to make it an annual program.

While Achilles has hosted the adaptive cycling meetup in Central Park in Manhattan for more than two decades, Magisano said, this is the first year it’s expanding to the outer boroughs. Along with the Williamsbridge oval site, the program has also spread to Prospect Park in Brooklyn and Flushing Meadows in Queens.

Bailo Barry rides an adaptable bike for the first time at the new adaptive cycling program launch on Wednesday, May 18 at the Williamsbridge Oval. Photo Adrian Childress

The experience was different than Briggs expected, which started with her sitting down and a guide helping her. Before she knew it, she was working her upper body, handcycling, with a volunteer running beside her.

“What’s really wonderful about the program is that everybody is so outgoing, you feel like you’ve known them forever,” Briggs said. ” … It’s very uplifting because everyone is so positive and it has just opened up a whole new world for me. Even though I’ve only been there three weeks, I just feel so encouraged.”

She said she has learned about other adaptive programs from Achilles employees, volunteers and other participants, who range in age, ethnicity, race and ability. Briggs encourages anybody with any kind of disability to try the program.

“There are people who have one leg, two legs, a prosthetic, don’t have a prosthetic, just all different kinds of people,” she said. “There are people like me who have two legs, two arms but have other problems…”

And Magisano emphasized that all are welcome, with any type of disability, from learning to physical.

Achilles can provide hand or foot pedal bikes, both of which can be adapted to suit individuals’ needs, often involving creativity and trouble-shooting, Magisano said. The organization contacts attendees before the meetup to ensure staff can come prepared with necessary tools, like materials to attach a shoulder stump, for example, to the hand crank. The organization also has tandem bikes, which are designed for two riders, so individuals who are unable to navigate alone, like someone who is blind or has low vision, can ride with a guide.

Cyclers on the track at the first Bronx meetup on May 18. Photo Adrian Childress

The program opens up the doors to a sport that can be hard to break into.

Just buying an adaptive bike can cost thousands, magnifying the economic hardships that can come with having a disability, not to mention the physical challenges of handling, maintaining and storing the large devices, Magisano said.

About a dozen first-time adaptive cyclers have come to the Bronx meetups, he said. Achilles recruits participants through entities already reaching people with disabilities, like Veterans Affairs and Montefiore.

“Honestly, if we had two people come who never thought it would be possible for them to be on an adaptive cycle, that would be amazing,” Magisano said. “So the fact that we had 12, I’m very happy about that.”

The handcycles can be customized by difficulty, and participants can choose how long they want to cycle for, and for how long.

Briggs, for example, used a special glove provided by Achilles when she had trouble keeping her right hand on the handlebar.

“Last week I did a mile, so tomorrow I’m going to try to do a mile and a quarter,” said Briggs, who enjoys socializing with the other attendees after she’s done cycling. “But that’s a goal I set for myself. Nobody is setting goals for me.” 

To sign up or learn more about the program, those interested can go to achillesinternational.org. Registration is required at least 48 hours prior to each meetup.

Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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