News / Health

Tandem Biking Opens Sport to Blind Bikers

Tandem Biking Opens Sport to Blind Bikersi
X
August 29, 2014 8:57 PM
You might have seen a tandem bike or even ridden one yourself. The two-seaters are now becoming popular among blind people. In many U.S. cities and elsewhere around the world, the blind are buying tandems and then recruiting sighted partners to get them on the road. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble meets up with a cycling club that accommodates blind bikers in the Washington suburbs.
Rosanne Skirble

Almost one in five Americans - some 43 million people - has a disability. But that does not have to keep them away from sports. Not only does participating in a sport provide rehabilitation, it promotes independence.

There are several organizations in the United States dedicated to getting everyone - amputees, people who are blind or deaf, those with brain injuries or medical issues - onto the ski slopes, basketball courts, rivers and riding trails.   

Disabled athletes may start early, boosted by teams in their schools and communities, or like Bob Hartt, 62, return to a favorite passion of their youth.

Hartt hadn’t ridden a bike in 20 years, since losing his sight from a progressive eye disease.  His wife Bonnie O’Day, 58, has been legally blind since childhood.  But the two are avid cross-country skiers, going out with guides who provide orientation through verbal descriptions and instructions.

Three years ago, their guides suggested that the couple might want to try biking to keep in shape the rest of the year.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity to get back to doing something I used to love doing,” Hartt said.  

So they bought a couple of used tandem bikes and began to recruit volunteers to ride with them. The couple lives near Washington, D.C., where cycling is popular. 

“Once we put out the call, it was a matter of coordination as to who would captain or pilot the two-seaters,” O’Day said. 

That grew into a club called “Tuesday Night Tandems,” which meets in a Northern Virginia neighborhood once or twice a week after work. 

“We usually have four or five teams of riders,” Hartt added.

When there is an odd number of blind riders, Hartt and O’Day ride the 3.2-meter, three-seat tandem bike that volunteer Mark Mulligan carefully unloads from the roof of his car. 

The riders soon take off down the driveway, picking up speed as they move downhill out of the neighborhood.  They are careful to obey traffic lights and stop signs as they follow a network of trails that leads them along the Potomac River.

Tandem captain pilots, stokers fuel engine

In tandem language, Mulligan is team captain.  His job is to make sure there are no surprises for the blind riders that sit behind him. They're called stokers.

“So you’re supposed to tell them what’s coming up, what’s going on. The difference is learning to actually describe what we’re doing," he said. "I call it the cruise director.  You’re trying to describe the sights as we’re going on.”

Mulligan says it is a misconception that blind people don’t know where they are.

“When we go out on a new ride I have to announce landmarks and after repeating the same ride, it puts a map in their heads," he said. "I’ve seen Bob out with a new volunteer and he’s telling him where to go. Bonnie does the same thing.”  

Hartt doesn’t want Mulligan to do more than his share. 

“We want to keep up on our side of bargain by keeping in shape ourselves.  We want to make it fun for them as well,” he said.

A well-choreographed dance

After dozens of tandem rides, the three work together like a well-oiled machine, acutely aware of one another and their surroundings. Hartt says the ride is like a choreographed dance. 

“It just feels great when you’ve got some speed and you’re going around some curves, and you’re all in sync," he said. "Once you get going you get that breeze, you get a little wind chill and it cools you right off and it’s just a lot of fun.”

O’Day loves to be out in nature. 

“It’s faster than walking, which is really good and as I go by things, I get to smell them," she said. "I get to experience the wind in my face and the smell of the flowers and a bakery if you happen to go by one, like the one we passed today.”

Nearly three hours later, the bikers head down the home stretch, tired, hungry but happy, like any cyclist who has just ridden 40 kilometers. 

“We’re not unique in any way," O'Day pointed out. "There are a lot of blind people who ride tandems.  And, of course, when we’re riding the people who are around us don’t know we’re vision-impaired. So, we’re just out there doing the regular thing just like everybody else and I think that’s good.”

The teams pull into the driveway where they started their ride. Hartt and O'Day dismount and give each other a hug, buoyed by a sense of confidence and camaraderie that they carry back into their daily lives. 

You May Like

Sambisa Forest Stands Between Nigeria, Victory Over Boko Haram

Military takes back nearly all towns, villages in northeast, except for massive expanse of forest that spreads thousands of square kilometers over several states More

Islamic State Recruiting Stokes Fears for Parents in Georgia

Chechens are a notable part of Islamic State's gains in Syria and Iraq, and analysts fear what might happen if those fighters return to the Caucasus More

Yarmouk Camp Becomes Distant Memory for Palestinian Diaspora

Once thriving capital of Palestinian diaspora, after siege by Syrian government forces and Islamic State group, camp becomes 'deepest circle of hell' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'i
X
Sharon Behn
April 21, 2015 9:18 PM
A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten. Sharon Behn reports on the politics of the word genocide on the 100th anniversary of the events.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video German Program Helps Migrants Overcome Traumatic Experience at Sea

Migrants fleeing poverty and violence in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia risk life and limb to reach safety in Europe. Those who have made it to European shores are traumatized by the experience. A program in Germany helps survivors overcome the trauma by giving a new perspective to their catastrophic experience. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs