As Easy as Riding a Bike?
James T. Davis Jr. strapped on a helmet, slid into the seat of a slick three-wheel recumbent bike, and took off down the pavement.
It sounds like it was easy, but it was anything but. Back in 2013, Davis had a partial amputation of his right leg due to a post-operative infection and complications. He has been a patient with MossRehab since then, gradually regaining his mobility, his confidence—and his life. Davis walks with a prosthetic leg, together with a set of forearm crutches adorned with cheery green Eagles’ logos.
One bright sunny Sunday, Davis took the opportunity to learn yet another way to enhance his mobility. He signed up for a one-day bike riding clinic for individuals with amputations hosted by MossRehab in conjunction with the non-profit Pennsylvania Center for Adapted Sports (PCAS).
Learning to ride a three-wheel bike was likely to be a challenge. But Davis was more than up for it. He’s used to tough challenges. “The only way you get your independence back is if you bust your behind,” he said with a smile. “You can’t be lazy in rehab.”
With help from MossRehab Physical Therapist Alba Seda-Morales, PT, DPT, Recreational Therapists Anne Wieland, CTRS, MHA, and Jeff McCormack, CTRS, along with PCAS volunteers, Davis was gently lowered onto the bike and strapped in. PCAS volunteers helped adjust the frame, seat and pedals to make Davis’s ride as comfortable as possible. He cracked jokes and laughed all the way. He only seemed to fret, and even then mostly for comedic effect, when anyone raised questions about the Eagles’ chances against the Saints.
With volunteers running alongside and coaching him on how to pedal and steer with his arms, Davis made steady progress on the downhill part of the course—but not so much coming back up to the start of the course. He groaned—and laughed—all the way back up to where he had started out. After a brief rest and a switch to a more streamlined bike, he went back for more.
Post-amputation, laughter did not come nearly as easily, he recalled. “I had a sense of loss, and anger,” he said. Davis came to MossRehab for inpatient and rehabilitation. Over time, his outlook on life improved, and he never looked back. “This is the only place I considered going for rehab—ABSOLUTELY—and you can write that in caps!”
Davis had ridden bicycles years ago, he said, “when I was younger, lighter and in shape.” Recently, he’d started to contemplate riding again. When MossRehab offered its clinic, he was all in.
Jeff McGinnis, PCAS executive director, sees that kind of enthusiasm all the time. PCAS has a number of programs to help individuals with amputations become involved in physical activity: rowing, cycling, skiing, hockey, climbing, swimming, and more.
“Cycling is one of our larger programs,” McGinnis said.” We have 50 cyclists in Philly and about 40 in Chester County.” Cyclists in the PCAS program ride along Martin Luther King Boulevard in Philly and the Exton Trailhead in Chester County. PCAS staff and volunteers offer training and advice—and coaching if cyclists want to get more serious. “It runs the gamut, from people who are just beginning to get into cycling to those who are competing,” he said.
PCAS also provides access to the necessary equipment, McGinnis said. “Our goal is to get people to be independent but it’s not always feasible for most people because of the expense of the equipment.” One of those three-wheeled bikes can cost more than $1,000.
The training is also necessary. Three wheels make the bikes stable, but steering, braking and gear-shifting don’t necessarily come as second nature.
MossRehab offered the recent bike clinic because it had been such a big draw last October, when mini-clinics for a number of sports and activities were offered. “We offered four in all,” said Wieland, MossRehab Recreation Therapy Team Leader. “Biking, golf, gardening and running—but biking took the cake.”
It pretty much takes the cake for Davis, too, and he plans to get more deeply involved. “It’s possible, it’s within my reach,” he said, “and I’m loving it.”