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Grant Helps Adaptive Athletes At Dare2Tri Get Back On The Road

by Joanne C. Gerstner

A young adaptive athlete on his bike. (Photo courtesy of Dare2Tri)

Sometimes, a single act can change so much for so many. Dare2Tri, a Chicago-based non-profit that aims to encourage adaptive sports for those with visual and physical challenges,hoped to land a five-figure grant to help expand its services.

The organization didn’t make it the first time, so it refined and applied again with the same proposal in 2020, and this time it was successful. With $40,000 from the Hartford’s Ability Equipped Program and Move United, Dare2Tri was able to purchase a new, custom trailer, order nine adaptive cycles and give two children their own adapted bikes.

The single grant created a ripple of good.

“We were really excited about this opportunity, because one of the benefits of our programming is, we don’t have a home base or a facility that we operate out of. We’re pretty mobile,” said Executive Director Keri Serota, who is also one of Dare2Tri’s founders and coaches. “We have trailers and are able to take our programs to places. And we have sort of piloted this a little with a local children’s hospital and a local rehab hospital, where we brought some bikes to them and did an adaptive bike experience. We saw that there was a good return on investment from getting those folks involved.”

Dan Tun, another co-founder and Dare2Tri’s program coach, said one of their goals for the grant was adding capacity to enable more children to get into adaptive cycling. Adaptive bikes are expensive, which can be a barrier to access and exposure for children with physical limits.

“I think it was a focus on all different age groups, but youth was definitely one of the them because we have children’s hospitals and different organizations and individuals that have physical disabilities,” Tun said. “But we’re not just limiting ourselves to that. We want to reach everyone who can’t reach our practices or camps.”

Because Dare2Tri is a mobile non-profit, having their own adaptive cycling equipment and trailers to transport to locations is a must. Their purpose, since they started in 2011, is to bring adaptive sports to the public. They focus on the pillars of triathlon: swimming, biking and cycling. They also offer health and fitness education and work to facilitate confidence in all ages.

Getting into underserved neighborhoods and populations, along with pushing farther into the VA and children’s hospitals, is the organization’s big near-term goal, with the hope of spreading the joy of sports to more.

Dare2Tri hosted 400 participants last year, with 75 on the youth side. In a non-pandemic time, 2019, they were near 600 participants and 180 children.

Serota already knows Dare2Tri’s magic, having seen how exposing sports to all ages can lead to new paths of self-confidence and strength. She described a memory of seeing new athletes experience adaptive cycling.

“Once they rode the bike, felt it, they were so energized and excited about the opportunity to be able to ride, they were more willing to travel outside of their comfort zone and come where we were hosting a practice or a camp or a clinic,” Serota said. 

In the past year, the pandemic has limited opportunities to hold camps, practices and clinics around Chicagoland. Avoiding the spread of the virus is an acute priority when dealing with immunocompromised populations.

Ryan Quilty, Dare2Tri’s logistics and program manager, has been figuring out ways to keep the program moving forward with care. Dare2Tri’s programming went virtual, with cycling and strength classes open to all. They are looking at how to do in-person events in 2021, while ensuring best practices to keep all participants and staffers safe.

The virtual programming brought in two out-of-state youth, Sam Winter from North Dakota and Jana Dickerson from Kentucky. Both became engaged in the adaptive cycling classes, and Dare2Tri rewarded their dedication by giving each their own customized bike out of the grant’s funds.

They had hoped to do a road-trip to deliver the bikes in person in mid-November, but the pandemic stopped that plan. Instead, the bikes were shipped to the children, and the Dare2Tri crew shared their joy at the surprise over Zoom.

“It was still pretty awesome to watch,” Tun said. 

Quilty said the Dare2Tri team is busy figuring out ways to maximize their new equipment and virtual modalities to make a bigger impact this year. They want to expose as many as possible to a hand-on, but safe, experience.

“We’re going to go places, for the day, and set up time frames where you can sign up to ride a bicycle, from 12 to 12:45, and then we have time to clean it,” Quilty said. “Or maybe it will be talking with the VA hospital see if we can bring the bicycles to you, so you can ride inside since it is cold out on trainers so they can get the feel of riding.

“Right now, it is figuring out that this works, how do we go about adapting it, so people get interested,” he added. “And it’s getting them to the first step to the riding a bicycle, whether it is inside or outside right now.”

Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for the New York Times and other outlets about sports. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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