A new bicycling program has wheeled into Winnipeg hoping to take seniors with mobility issues and people who are visually impaired out for a spin.
Cycling Without Age uses a trishaw, a motorized hybrid between a tricycle and a rickshaw, to give rides to people with limited mobility. The Riverview Health Centre Foundation and Canadian Institute for the Blind (CNIB) have each purchased one.
"I felt that sense of freedom, and that sense of,'Wow, I'm outside," said Denise Allard, 54, who has been living without her sight since she was 16.
"To feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your face, and just to soak up all the outside atmosphere and scenery is just unbelievably healthy. I feel more exhilarated," she said.
The trishaw can carry two adults in the front and is driven by a "pilot" who pedals in the back.
The program began in Denmark in 2012 as a way of helping seniors in nursing homes get out into their communities.
"A lot of families say they come [and] they visit, but they would like to do something besides go for a cup of coffee or just go for a little walk in the wheelchair," said Sheldon Mindell, executive director of the Riverview Health Centre Foundation.
He says the idea came from a board member who travelled to Copenhagen and thought it was a great idea to bring to Winnipeg.
"It's a very fancy bike, it is as they say, the Rolls-Royce of bicycles," said Mindell.
The trishaws cost about $10,000 each, and are equipped with a re-chargeable battery and a canopy to partially cover the front seats.
Mindell says all the details of how and when the bikes will be used still needs to be worked out, but he hopes families of residents, as well as volunteers and staff, will take advantage.
He says so far anyone who has tried it has really enjoyed it.
"They all do the Queen wave you know, it makes them feel like they are part of something, it changes the dynamics of their day. It takes them outside and that's crucial," said Mindell.
Bicycling improves well-being, combats isolation
Cycling Without Age founder, Ole Kassow, made the trip to Winnipeg from Copenhagen to launch the chapter. Part of his inspiration to create the program came from his father, who lived with multiple sclerosis.
"When I was five, he was in a wheelchair, so it was always part of my life [to help him] regain his mobility by taking him out in different ways," he said.
"I would sometimes ride my own bike when I was 12 or 13 and then pull his wheelchair alongside me. That was also a bit of a crazy idea but he loved it."
Kassow says the trishaws are a way to get people with mobility issues back into the community.
"At old age, you tend to become isolated, you lose your mobility. You're in a nursing home, maybe you've lost your spouse or your friends are gone and you're alone. And really, what you need is to be able to come out and make new friends," said Kassow.
"People feel shut in all the time, and they are always indoors, and a lot of those people were active in their day," she said.
"I think this could go beyond persons with disabilities and seniors."
"It would bring more of a connection not only with families but with the community as a whole."
Cycling Without Age has 225 chapters in 28 countries. The Winnipeg chapter is the first to offer services to the visually impaired.