When Carol Mertens first entered the office of Cerebral Palsy Kids and Families, she only wanted a bike for her disabled daughter. She never thought she would end up as the bike program coordinator a few years later.
Carol’s’ daughter Alex, now 18, was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder affecting body movement and muscle coordination. Alex was also born with severe epilepsy.
When Carol was pregnant with triplets, the doctors tried to encourage her to reduce the pregnancy, saying two children would have a better success rate than three.
Carol and her husband, Mike, decided to keep all three babies, but they knew from her birth that Alex was different from her two sisters.
After receiving Alex’s diagnosis at the age of one, a friend of Carol’s told her about the organization Cerebral Palsy Kids and Families and their bike adaptation program.
Sheralee Stelter, the founder of the bike adaptation program, still remembers meeting Carol for the first time.
“I don't think she was really convinced that we were going to be able to make her daughter ride a bike,” Stelter says.
In the bike adaptation program, regular bikes are rebuilt for children with disabilities. With the help of special belts and handlebars, even wheelchair users get the chance to cycle.
“That just helped me realize that we weren't the only ones in this boat,” Carol explains.
She appreciates that she wasn’t overwhelmed with advice by the organization. Instead, someone was there to hold her hand and tell her that everything was going to be okay.
‘’I wasn't interested in taking a lot of information, except for that I could handle a bike,” she says.
As it turned out, the bike worked really well for her daughter. Carol started volunteering with the bike program soon after receiving Alex’s first bike.
“You see these kids very severely disabled and then you get them on their bike and they're almost transformed. It gives you goosebumps,” - Carol Mertens says.
When Alex talks about riding her bike, her eyes gleam with excitement.
“Riding around the block makes me happy. It gives me freedom,” she says.
Cerebral Palsy Kids and Families also helped Alex discover all sorts of new interests – wheelchair dancing, horseback riding, sit-skiing and more. The organization is the centre of her social life.
“All my friends are there!”
And for Alex’s mother, that’s what matters most.
“From the moment that Alex wakes up, she needs help. But yet with all of that and how many needs she has, she actually doesn't look at her life as being tragic. She thinks she's the greatest thing since sliced bread!” Carol says.
Over the years, Carol became more and more involved with the organization, until she was asked to join the board.
After six years of being the president, her term came to an end, but she still wanted to be engaged and the opportunity to work as bike coordinator came up.
Stelter, now the executive director of Cerebral Palsy Kids and Families, didn’t have any doubts that Carol was the right person for the job.
“She had the same goals for the program that I did. You know a lot of people just thought that we were trying to become a bike shop. But she didn’t, she and I shared the same vision,” Stelter says.
Both Carol and Stelter believe that every child, regardless of their disability, should have the opportunity to have an adapted bike in Calgary.
When families sign up for the program, their contact person is Carol. She uses a self-made chart to see which type of adapted bike matches with the child, depending on abilities, height, weight and age.
“You see these kids very severely disabled and then you get them on their bike and they're almost transformed. It gives you goosebumps,” Carol says.
But for Carol, her job is about so much more than bikes.
“I think the best thing is the hope that we can give them. Because I have hope that each kid is going to achieve [their] full potential.”
Carol thinks that it’s crucial for the parents of kids with special needs to realize that she and her colleagues aren’t just workers. They are sympathetic to their situation: all of them have children with disabilities and have faced similar problems.
‘’We really do love these kids. You know it's not just a job. It's really the bigger picture. And all these new families will eventually take over our jobs.’’
- By Luisa Fohn