Killaloe – A teen who never had the opportunity to ride a bike due to her visual impairment is ready to hit the streets thanks to a donation from a local organization that promotes and advocates for cycling and active transportation opportunities.
Last Wednesday afternoon, 17-year-old Delyla Guinther-Laporte excitedly watched as Bob Peltzer and Ish Theilheimer, members of the Ottawa Valley Cycling and Active Transportation Alliance (OVCATA), unloaded the adult tricycle the organization was donating to her, through its new Bike Bank program.
The Bike Bank program is a unique new service launched recently by OVCATA to enable everyone in the Valley who needs a bike to have one and Delyla was one of the first recipients of a bike. Volunteers work with the Bike Bank to collect and recondition used bikes and get them to people who want one. OVCATA members are collecting bikes from the Ontario Provincial Police, individuals, bike stores, waste sites and other sources and reconditioning them in return for a donation to anyone who asks for one.
Elaine Guinther said her daughter has had a visual impairment since birth that has left her with no vision in her left eye and 60 per cent in her right eye.
“With her with bikes, we’ve tried many things over the years to get her a little bit of mobility, but nothing has really helped her because of her depth perception,” she said. “The ground looks very far away when she is further back, so she looks a little bit nervous because this is the first time she’s able to actually be mobile a little bit on her own.”
“It gives her independence, and at 17, she really needed that,” she added. “So, thanks to OVCATA so much, she really needed that. We really appreciate it.”
While it is not the first bike Delyla has owned, it is the first one she will be able to use safely.
“This adds a lot to her mobility and she’ll be able to bike around town with her friends now,” she remarked. “That’s something she has never been able to do before. It’s really amazing.”
She noted Delyla’s younger brother, Miles has a bike too but is a little hesitant, so he and Delyla can now practice together.
She said Delyla is very well-known around their William Street home, so people will be careful when they see her out riding her new bike.
“She’s well-known in the community and people know of her needs,” she remarked. “I’d be a little more nervous with her downtown, but we’ll get her some kind of vest or something.”
She planned to take Delyla to the parking lot at Killaloe Public School where she could get used to her new bike.
Ms. Guinther is a native of Killaloe who lived there until Delyla was about five and then they moved to Alberta, returning last year.
Delyla took a minute from her training ride around the yard to share her feelings.
“I think it’s pretty cool that they give bikes to people,” she said. “A lot of people around here don’t have anything to do and biking is good for them because it gets them outside and stuff.”
Delyla said she could see the bike okay but it would be harder to see the road with her vision impairment.
“I’ll figure that out though,” she noted confidently.
She was excited to get back to her training, noting she probably would take it to her boyfriend’s place on Sunday as he has a bike too.
“I’ll look up all the bike rules because I don’t remember them,” she commented. “I’ll make sure to do the signals when I’m turning and crossing the road and stuff.”
Delyla said because the bike is an adult model it will be more stable and she will feel more comfortable on it once she gets used to it.
“I’ll be able to go and get stuff on the bike if I have to go to the grocery store or anywhere. There’s a nice big basket on the back and there’s a lock, so I don’t have to worry about it being stolen.”
A Grade 12 student at Fellowes High School who studies online, she works part-time at the Killaloe IDA. When asked what plans she has for the future, she said she was not sure at this point in her young life.
For People Who Can’t Afford Bikes
Mr. Theilheimer, a co-founder of OVCATA, credited Pat Krose, the co-chair of the organization, for initiating the idea of the Bike Bank.
“We’d been thinking about it over the course of the winter and we’ve now got a system and a committee of about five of us,” he explained. “People contact us by e-mail if they have bike to donate, or if they want a bike.
“We try to make it very clear that it’s for people who can’t afford bikes,” he added. “We don’t want to be in competition with the bike stores. We support the bike stores; we don’t want to undercut them.”
He noted for many people, owning a bike is an affordability issue, and yet it can be one of the most important things a person will ever own.
“It gives you independence, transportation, a sense of self-respect, improves your health and mental health,” he noted. “We’re trying to transfer the joy of having bikes to people who can’t afford it.”
Ms. Guinther is a single mom with three kids, so finding something affordable and specialized has been a pretty big issue.
“So, we really appreciate this. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be able to have something that does give her so much freedom,” she said.
Mr. Theilheimer said the tricycle was donated by a woman from Barry’s Bay and when Karen Dupuis, Delyla’s grandmother, whom he has known for many years, said she required one for Delyla, it was “pretty easy” to match the request.
Bikes Can Change Lives
Mrs. Krose said young or old, a bicycle can transform someone’s life.
“A bike can give you a sense of independence and freedom and make you stronger, healthier and happier. For the people who need and want a bike but can’t afford one, we hope the Bike Bank will fill an important need.”
She explained people who want a bike simply should contact OVCATA, and volunteers will determine what kind and size is needed and arrange for delivery. Initially, contact is being done through community agencies. The bikes will be stored at various locations around the county, adding Yantha’s Cycle in Pembroke came forward to offer the Bike Bank’s first storage location, as well as technical support, advice, and used parts.
“To succeed, the Bike Bank will need lots of local support and participation,” Mrs. Krose said. “OVCATA is asking for donations of bikes and for volunteers who can help pick up, repair, store and deliver bikes.”
They also need new helmets for all the kids who get bikes and are hoping local merchants and service clubs can help with this need. Individuals can contribute too by making cash donations on the website – www.ovcata.ca.”
In Pembroke, the OPP delivered 34 unclaimed used bikes to OVCATA that had been warehoused for several years.
“Some are in good shape, but most need work,” Mrs. Krose said. “Fortunately, we’ve got some good people who love working on them.”