Not Always As Easy As Riding A Bike

Every child’s life is marked by developmental milestones: Potty training. Shoe tying. Bike riding.

But — as basic as those sound — not every kid achieves every milestone with ease.

Barbara Greenspan

Barbara Greenspan

Westporter Barbara Greenspan is a pediatric occupational therapist. Working primarily with preschoolers to develop gross and fine motor skills — jumping, skipping, handwriting — she knows the physical and emotional benefits of being able to do everyday tasks.

Barbara is also a devoted bike rider. She works out at Sherpa, does the CT Challenge and enters triathlons. “Kids need to ride bikes,” she believes. But they don’t always have the ability to.

In 2007 she asked Westport Parks and Rec to help organize a bike-riding class for children with disabilities. “Inclusion” is part of their mission. Cyndi Palaia worked with Barbara to develop a “Cycle Club.”

They’ve run it every spring since. For 6 weeks at the Compo Skate Park, a half dozen or so youngsters learn about balance, starting and stopping, and safety.

Easy does it...

Easy does it…

Every Monday — with help from Staples’ Service League of Boys (SLOBs), and other high school students — the kids hesitantly, then confidently, move from training wheels to independence.

Some are autistic. Others have Down Syndrome, or ADHD. All achieve an important milestone.

Barbara calls the teenage helpers crucial to the program’s success. “They literally hold the bikes, say when to pedal, and slowly let go.”

She notes that the teenagers “have to think about how to teach. They have to be empathetic. They’re in close proximity to the kids, physically and emotionally. I think they get as much satisfaction out of helping, as the kids do themselves. It’s a process, and they’re there for the kids every step of the way.”

Some of the teens return every year to help.

The Cycle Club is one of Westport’s lowest-key, littlest-known programs. But it has a major impact.

The other day, Barbara saw one of the program’s graduates on a bike near Roseville Road. “I rode to the beach with my dad, and back,” he proudly told her. “I rode 6 miles!”

12 responses to “Not Always As Easy As Riding A Bike

  1. paula babis

    I wish Barabara Greenspan lived near me. My daughter at 18 does not ride a bike. She was very ill as a child and never felt like/could/motivated to learn how to ride.

    • Laurey Tussing

      Paula, I just posted a comment about a program called Lose the Training Wheels. It might be worth checking it out for your daughter.

  2. Tracy Flood

    Love it!

  3. Nancy Powers Conklin

    What a great story and an even greater story! Keep it up, Barbara!

  4. Nancy Powers Conklin

    Oops…on the 2nd “story” I meant to write, “program.”

  5. What a wonderful story, Dan. Thanks so much for sharing.
    Gail Harris at

  6. George and Kathe Damman

    We have a ladies and 1 men’s old bikes we no longer use. Any suggestions who might want them as give-aways? They would need to be picked up in Westport. Kathe Damman 203-259-6055.

  7. culinary tor

    How beautiful, and heartening-this commitment and love!Tor Sporre’

    Date: Fri, 6 Jun 2014 09:00:46 +0000 To:

  8. Robin Scarella

    Way to go Bsrbara. Am so proud to know you.

  9. Amy scarella

    Barbara is one of the most special people out there; she is kind and compassionate and does her “good deeds” with no recognition necessary. The kids who work with her will always remember the lady who helped them learn to ride a bike.

  10. shari Goldstein

    Barbara Greenspan is an awesome Occupational Therapist. Her bike riding program has brought smiles and success to many children. I hope to see this program grow and continue. GO BARBARA!

  11. Laurey Tussing

    Tears. Couldn’t help but get choked up when I read this article. Six years ago my 9 year old son, who has mild autism couldn’t ride a bike. We tried, his PT tried without success. We happened to be at the Sea/Tac airport where I found a USA Today leftover by a previous passenger. There was a small article titled “Lose the Training” wheels. I read that this organization travels around the US during the summer months making week long stops to teach kids to learn to ride a bike. I registered my son for the week long program. They use special bikes that are “weighted” in the back. As the kids get more confidence, they slowly remove more and more weights. On Day 5 my son had finally learned to ride a bike! I am forever grateful to this amazing organization. What Barbara and the Staples high school boys are doing is extraordinary. What a difference they are making in these young peoples lives. Awesome.