A bicycle ride can offer freedom, joy and exuberance like few other activities – and that is exactly what Ted Forrest offers seniors in the East Wellington Community Services’ (EWCS) adult day program in Erin.
Each Thursday from the end of May to the beginning of October, Forrest gathers volunteers and takes adult day program participants for a bicycle ride along the Elora-Cataract Trailway on specially-outfitted wheelchair bikes.
The volunteer pedals and steers while the passenger can relax and enjoy the scenery in a wheelchair-type seat that also serves as the front wheels of the bicycle.
“He’s so passionate about it and he’s so happy to help and seeing the adult day program participants, smiles on their faces when he comes, is just remarkable and there’s a line up and there’s a rush for the door to see who can ride first,” said Becky Walker, EWCS manager of community outreach and older adult programs.
“They eagerly bring their helmets in; it’s really nice that he does it himself and it’s his program and … he shares his time with us.”
Walker was so impressed that she nominated Forrest and the Bike Buddy program for the Ontario Community Support Association’s commitment to volunteer service award. He won last month.
However, he accepted the award on behalf of his fellow Bike Buddies Michael Russell, Jim Hanenberg and Michael Collins.
“It’s a team and it’s important for people to realize that,” Forrest said.
“Yes, I had something to do with getting this thing set up, (but) on the activity basis you can’t do it alone at all. You need a team.”
According to Walker, Forrest did more than just set up the program.
“I’ve been with East Wellington Community Services for just over a year so he had started the program before I had got there, but the moment I met him he was just so passionate and so engaged and wanting to provide this program and to take ownership of it,” Walker said.
“It’s … hard to find a person like Ted who understands and is able to run a program all by themselves and really find that unique niche and bring it to the seniors.”
Forrest and his Bike Buddy volunteers take each a passenger for a 20 to 30 minute bike ride.
“They’re really chomping at the bit just to take off and go for a ride,” Forrest said.
“It’s absolutely incredible.”
Forrest has volunteered with the Bike Buddy program at Wellington Terrace Long Term Care Home since 2008 and it was in 2013 that he saw the opportunity to bring the program to Erin.
When Community Living Guelph Wellington opened an ARC Industries building in Erin the community was in fundraising mode.
Forrest’s gym, Erin PhysioFitness, wanted to fundraise and Forrest suggested raising money to buy the wheelchair bikes for ARC Industries.
The Community Living executive director was on board so Forrest went to the Optimist Club of Erin, Rotary Club of Erin and the Erin District Lions Club to ask for donations.
“I’m after $7,500, I’m not after chicken feed, this is serious money and the three clubs were looking for a joint project,” he said, remembering. “So each one of them gave us $2,500.”
Through additional community fundraising Forrest raised another $6,500 and was able to buy two of the duet wheelchair bicycle tandems from Mobility and Access Inc. in the U.S. and helmets for all of the ARC participants.
However, there was a catch.
“I made ARC Industries agree that since we’re not using the bikes every day that if there are other community programs where we can use these we have to be able to borrow the bikes to do them,” he explained.
And that’s how the adult day program Bike Buddy program was born.
“We talked to (EWCS) around 2014 and we finally got some people to ride in 2015,” Forrest explained.
“There was a certain reluctance from the seniors.
“‘Is it safe? … Where are you taking me? Will I get back?’ That kind of thing but we have core group of about six or seven now.”
Walker said one of the things that makes the program so unique is that it’s run by primarily male volunteers.
“In any program, a lot of our volunteers are females and this is a male volunteer who has made it enticing enough to his friends to have other male volunteers come with him. And so when you have a male participant in the adult day program they really connect with that male,” Walker explained.
“They spend all day with a lot of females in the program, all female staff, all female volunteers and then Ted and his buddies come in to take you for a bike ride … so just the sense of camaraderie and friendship that Ted brings along volunteering.”
Michael Russell, another Bike Buddy, said it’s more than just volunteering for him.
“I look forward both for helping seniors or ARC individuals and also for me it’s exercise,” said Russell, a recreational cycler.
“You feel you’ve had a workout if you’ve spent two or three hours riding the bike and then just the idea of talking to older people or talking to different individuals that it breaks up their day.
“It’s another activity for them, which I think is great.”
Now Forrest is setting his sights on introducing Bike Buddy-type programs across Canada.
Mobility and Access Inc. has asked Forrest to be their sales agent for Canada so he will be selling the wheelchair-bicycle tandems and other options from coast to coast.
“It’s become a bit of a passion because of what I can see it doing,” Forrest said.
“So we’re going to launch a campaign to try to get people to look at this as maybe a Canada 150 project in their community.”
One wheelchair bicycle will cost about US$5,200 from now until the end of 2017.
Anyone interested in the wheelchair bicycles or setting up a fundraising model or volunteering with the Erin Bike Buddy program, can contact Forrest at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 519-938-1592.