“This is our normal life, so we don’t know easy,” Kathy Newton said.
When her son, Cooper, was about 3 weeks old, she said he had an unspecified virus, shutting off oxygen to his brain and causing permanent damage. It resulted in cerebral palsy.
“Cooper is non-verbal, walks with a walker with assistance and is in need of full-time care for daily activities, including dressing, feeding and bathing,” Long Beach resident Newton said. “He is a very determined child who proves he is only limited by what he is allowed to do.”
One of the things the now 16-year-old is allowed to do is ride a tricycle — something Newton said has changed his life.
“Riding the tricycle activates muscles he wouldn’t ordinarily use,” Newton said. “It strengthens his quads and his core. The core is so important because of all the things it does… From the time we got the trike until now, he’s had a huge boost in confidence. For the first time in 16 years, he can ride with the neighborhood kids.”
About 15 other children will get a life change at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, at CSULB’s east gym, thanks to California State University, Long Beach’s Physical Therapy Student Association (PTSA), SoCal Trykers, a $6,990 grant from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and other donations.
SoCal Trykers is a group of physical therapists and their friends/families who give away adapted tricycles and are part of AmTryke, operated by National AMBUCS, Inc.
Cooper’s adapted three-wheeler came last June, after Cooper’s physical therapist referred them to SoCal Trykers, Newton said.
“We were some of the people who were lucky enough to receive one,” Newton said. “The bike allows him the freedom to be out in the community, it kind of takes out the disabled barrier, it’s opened up doors, people seem less apprehensive to approach us.”
CSULB physical therapy department lecturer Noel Spina said the PTSA wanted to help get trikes in the hands of those who normally couldn’t afford it. Some students reached out to her a couple years ago wanting to give back, she said, and a partnership between the club and some local clinicians — under the umbrella of SoCal Trykers — was created. Since then, Spina said the PTSA has participated in several giveaways.
“We have a process where we identify the child’s needs, raise funds and give away the trikes,” Spina said, noting PTSA students sometimes build the trikes and conduct assessments after the children have had them for several days.
“Physical therapists seek to transform society by moving them,” Spina said. “This (the giveaways) is one that makes you smile because they’re (trikes) able to be ridden.”
Since SoCal Trykers’ beginning in 2013, it’s given away about 306 trikes to children and adults, according to president Denise Netteberg. She said she began the group after hearing they could receive trikes at a discount.
“This is just a passion of ours, to give back to the community,” Netteberg said. “They’re designed so even a child who can barely walk can use them.”
PTSA president Randy Stuck said he has worked with SoCal Trykers about two years.
“It’s so important to give children mobility,” Stuck said. “It allows them to have more motor control.”
Stuck said he was there when Cooper received his tricycle.
“When he first got on, he had difficulty,” Stuck said. “Now, he can turn his head… Now he can be doing something he wants to do, which is especially important for kids with special needs.”
Cooper can do something he’s allowed and wants to do, which may be a small thing in life for some.
“There are so many rewards being blessed with a child like Cooper it makes the hard times easier,” Newton said. “We take each day at a time and sometimes just minute to minute and we celebrate the small things in life.”
For more information on SoCal Trykers, visit socaltrykers.wixsite.com/socaltrykers.
Emily Thornton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.