(First published in the October 4, 2018 issue of City Pages)
The volunteer-led Cycling without Age launched in Stevens Point this year, and now a group is working to bring it to the Wausau area.
Halle Veenstra gives a ride to two residents of North Crest Assisted Living in Stevens Point. She has been leading the charge to bring the program to the Wausau area.
Halle Veenstra feels inspired to help others. Pointing to the Matthew West song, “Do Something,” the Wausau school teacher says she felt like she wanted to give back to her community. After seeing a news story last year about Cycling Without Age Stevens Point — a program in which volunteer pilots give rides to elderly and limited mobility passengers on special bicycles called trishaws — Veenstra was inspired to do the same in the Wausau area.
Cycling Without Age was started by Ole Kassow in 2012 Copenhagen, Denmark after he began offering free trishaw rides to nursing home residents. Since then, over 40 countries around the world are using Cycling Without Age to get their aging population outside. The United States has several affiliations with the group, including a number of chapters in Wisconsin.
Volunteer pilots sign up for bike rides with the elderly as often or as rarely as they want to, according to the Cycling Without Age website. There are more than 1,200 chapters around the world, with more than 2,000 trishaws being operated by 13,000 pilots.
Tori Jennings, an alderperson in Stevens Point and a professor of Anthropology at UW-Stevens Point, spearheaded the Stevens Point program with assistance from Michelle Bachaus of the Wisconsin Bike Federation. In September of 2017, they borrowed a trishaw from Brewster Village in Appleton and held a hands-on event at the Stevens Point Aging & Disability Resource Center and Portage County Health Care Center, says Jennings.
They gave almost a hundred rides that day. After administrators of the two centers saw the reactions of the passengers, they were sold. After just one year, approximately 55 volunteer pilots have signed on to the Stevens Point program, says Jennings. The three trishaws have pedaled 1,456 miles collectively. “They talk about the joy they experience taking passengers for rides,” she says of the volunteers. “We learn things about our community we did not know because often passengers grew up in the area. Our passengers overwhelmingly enjoy the experience… even dementia sufferers smile and are engaged during the ride. Family members and facility staff report that residents sleep better, are more alert, and have better moods when they have been out for a trishaw ride.”
After learning more about the program and volunteering with the Stevens Point chapter, Veenstra said, “Wouldn’t that be neat to have in Wausau?” She asked around and connected with others to get the ball rolling here. “I just thought ‘Well, if not me, then who?’”
Veenstra and others have been working over the summer and so far have five local facilities committed to being part of the organization including Mount View Care Center, The Rennes Group, Primrose Assisted Living, the Woodson YMCA and Opportunity, Inc.
She also has a goal in the future of getting the trishaws involved in local events in the community, such as Art in the Park.
The Denmark-made trishaws cost $9,000 per unit, and are specially constructed for Cycling Without Age: a seat for two passengers in the front with the pilot pedaling behind them, aided by an electric assist motor. The Wausau group is raising funds to acquire four trishaws, and thanks to a grant specific to Wisconsin, two can be obtained at half price.
Once the bikes arrive, Cycling Without Age Marathon County will be hiring Bachaus from the bike federation to train volunteers on pedaling folks around town. The trishaws will be kept at the participating facilities and trained volunteer pilots will have a schedule of when they give rides to residents. Veenstra hopes to get the program up and pedaling in Wausau immediately after that.
“Cycling Without Age helps bring communities together,” says Jennings. “It’s really about connections. It’s important that people see older adults as part of the community, hear their stories, and recognize that aging is something we all do.”
For more information or to donate to Cycling Without Age Marathon County, email [email protected].