ARLINGTON -- It's tough to fit in with neighborhood kids when they're riding bikes and you can't seem to graduate from training wheels.
Ask Audrey Adams. A 9-year-old with Down syndrome, she struggles with balance and other developmental problems that make bike-riding a challenge and can leave her feeling isolated.
But earlier this week, Audrey was all smiles and squeals as she puttered along on a specially equipped bike at the University of Texas at Arlington's Maverick Activity Center, taking part in a five-day program that builds the skills needed to master bicycling.
"Mom! Mom!" she called out as she wheeled by on the gymnasium floor, with volunteer spotters trotting along on each side.
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"Go, Audrey, go!" her mother, Katrina Adams of Arlington, called after her.
It was a big moment for both.
"If you can ride a bike, you can hang out and do what your friends do," Katrina Adams said. "That's really important for Audrey."
Audrey is among 23 people with Down syndrome and other disabilities -- mostly kids but also some adults -- participating in the five-day camp. It's the second annual collaboration of the Down Syndrome Partnership of Tarrant County and Lose the Training Wheels, a national nonprofit group that is hosting 80 to 90 camps in the U.S. and Canada this year.
Tammy Burt, board adviser to Lose the Training Wheels, said the organization has 25 staff members and nine fleets of about 30 customized bikes.
The bikes' back wheels have been replaced with what resemble wooden rolling pins, which provide stability, but not as much as training wheels. As students' balance improves, they use rollers that are increasingly tapered at either end, making them rounder to provide less and less stability. That helps students gradually strengthen their abdominal muscles, which are necessary for good balance but are typically weaker in people with Down syndrome.
Families pay $125 for someone with Down syndrome attend the camp, or $150 for people with other disabilities.
More than 100 volunteers signed up to help, enough to keep two or three running alongside the students during their rides.
"We think it's great, and we plan to do it every year," said Jennifer Mearns, administrative assistant for the Down Syndrome Partnership, which serves 475 families in Tarrant County.
"It's a matter of being included," Mearns said. "It's the difference between a kid standing on the corner watching kids ride and being able to ride with them."
Biking has been more of a challenge to 10-year-old Candace Moffitt, who continued to struggle well after her 9-year-old sister had mastered it. Embarrassed, Candace refuses to practice riding with her sister around.
"She doesn't want to be upped by her sister," said their mother, Theresa Moffit of Arlington. "She's so excited now -- her sister's not here; she's been learning with others; she's with her peers."
Adams said she expects Audrey to progress well during the camp but doesn't think she'll reach the top level of the program, riding a bike with a regular back wheel and only a handle on the back for a helper to grasp.
"But who knows?" she said. "I always seem to underestimate her. And she has a way of exceeding my expectations."