Christina Allen, an heirloom farmer, book illustrator and avid cyclist who lives in Park Hall, arrived at Discovery Commons at Wildewood, a nursing home in California, early Tuesday morning with her freshly constructed trishaw.
The 60-year-old picked up Grace Shadowens, 88, with the permission of her daughter, Martha, and gave her a two-hour ride around the neighborhood. Shadowens, who was more than happy to be doing something other than reading or watching television in her room, repeated several times during her ride that she was really enjoying herself. After riding out to a nearby Starbucks, where seniors are given a free cup of coffee, Shadowens was safely returned to the nursing home where she thanked Allen for the new experience.
Allen has been hard at work starting up the first Cycling Without Age Chapter in Maryland. The program, formed in 2012 in Denmark, offers recreational mobility to seniors in the form of volunteer-driven trishaws, which are bicycles with two wheels and a bench passenger seat in the front.
Allen first discovered the program last year at a conference when a peer suggested that someone start a chapter. Allen, being a two-year cancer survivor who believes cycling got her through her treatments, was more than eager to learn more about it.
“I immediately went home, looked up the program and applied to be a pilot. I told my story and soon after, I was granted a chapter,” Allen said. She invested her own money into getting her first trishaw manufactured and shipped from Europe. At 180 pounds, the new cycle includes a 250-watt battery to assist when pedaling uphill.
“The trishaws are made to order so it took about six months to arrive,” she said. “Once it was shipped I had access to real-time tracking and it finally came all shrink-wrapped.”
Allen ordered the Christiania, the classic model, that can fit either two small passengers or one larger one. “I like this model because the thin body of the bike makes it more side-walk safe,” she added.
Now that Allen has secured what she believes is Maryland’s very first trishaw, she has been giving two to three rides a week for the past six weeks to less-abled adults around the county. She hopes to increase the frequency and duration of rides as the program expands and gains more visibility.
“The more people that like the program, the more funding it will receive,” she said.
All rides are completely free but donations are accepted from organizations, and there is a possibility that individual donations will soon be accepted as well.
“With more funding, we can eventually purchase another trishaw so that more pilots will be able to volunteer to give rides,” Allen said.
Allen has been trying to partner up with local churches and nursing homes but has been met with some resistance.
“It’s mostly a concern with liability,” she said.
While some people are concerned about the safety of the trishaw rides, Allen can confirm that the rides are, in fact, completely safe. The cycle’s cart is located in the front of the steering wheel and pedals, allowing passengers to be easily monitored by the pilot. Rides are slow and the trishaw features a cushioned seat, seat belt, and an adjustable footrest so that even passengers who are unable to walk may be seated with ease. There is a hood above the cart to block out sun and rain, and a waterproof blanket is always carried on board for passengers who might get cold.
Last week, Allen gave a ride to Paula Keeton and her 94-year-old mother, who both said they had a great time on the trishaw.
When asked about her experience, Paula Keeton said, “The trishaw ride was smooth and easy. Christina is a strong cyclist and has a masterful control over the roadway. … Mom at 94 has not been on a bicycle for many years. Her pure joy was written all across her face.”
Allen was recently contacted by AARP and is in the process of discussing their help in an official launch of the CWA program in St. Mary’s, hopefully sometime early next year.
“AARP is interested in the program because it helps keep seniors active, healthy, and happy,” she said, adding that a person in Howard County is also looking to start a chapter.
“It’s really important that seniors have access to the outdoors,” Allen said, adding that she strongly believes that every person has the right to feel “the wind in their hair.”
Not only do the rides offer seniors in the community an opportunity to experience the outdoors, but they also bring people together. “Talking to seniors and hearing their stories helps to keep the community more connected,” she said.
Allen also gives rides to less-abled adults who may struggle with getting outdoors and has a scheduled ride with a 33-year-old woman with Down syndrome, who loves the outdoors, at the end of this week.