With a bit of travel involved, Gina Esch discovered an adventure of behalf of her son.
“We took Connor an hour from here, I think, and kind of had a life-changing day for our family,” the South Fayette Township resident said. “It’s something you take for granted, to be able to go on a bike ride.”
For young people like Connor who have life challenges, adaptive bicycles provide the opportunity to have such experiences.
“We wanted to be able to share that with more families in our community,” Gina said.
So she has been working with Dean and Kristin Huibregtse, also of South Fayette, on implementing an adaptive riding program that debuted May 8 on the Montour Trail in Cecil Township.
In memory of their son, Bennett, the Huibregtses founded Always B Smiling, a nonprofit that offers support and experiences for children, their families and caregivers.
Esch, the organization’s vice president, helped bring the adaptive riding program to fruition. From 2 to 4 or 4 to 6 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 30, rides are available for free, with the meeting point in the parking lot of Tandem Connection, 5 Georgetown Road.
Riders need to register on the Always B Smiling website and can sign up for as many rides as they want.
“It’s encouraged to be a family outing,” Esch said. “Everybody will be treated to ice cream here at the Tandem Connection after. So we’re really trying to make it a great experience for everybody.”
Rides are aboard Duet Wheelchair Bicycle Tandems, providing a comfortable wheelchair seat at the front of the electronic-assisted bike. Two trained volunteers accompany riders, one to power the Duet and the other to bike along as a backup.
The first rides of the program launch were taken by Connor Esch and Sophie Hutt, both friends of Bennett Huibregtse.
“This was a big part of Bennett’s life, so we’re happy to give back,” Dean Huibregtse said prior to piloting Sophie on her ride.
He thanked the Montour Trail Council for partnering in the effort, announcing the volunteer group has installed an accessible restroom at the program site and plans to make other accessibility improvements along the 47-mile recreational path, which passes through Peters Township and has a spur in Bethel Park.
Huibregtse also expressed appreciation to Tandem Connection for storing the bicycles and hosting the weekly events, and he announced that his family’s nonprofit has received 501©(3) certification.
“Every dollar we raise is going to go back into programming as we expand Always B Smiling,” he said.
His wife emphasized their mission.
“You know how near and dear to our hearts Bennett was, and we miss him dearly,” Kristin said. “But we’re so happy to share everything he loved in life. And we can’t think of a better way than to create smiles for children with disabilities and health challenges.”
For more information about the adaptive riding program, visit alwaysbsmiling.org/home-page/bike-rides.