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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More