Smiles for miles: Palm Springs event puts children with special needs on road to more fun

What was usually just a gray parking lot came alive with shrieks of laughter as children circled each other on specialized bikes of all different sizes and styles Saturday in Palm Springs.

Danny Basilio sped down the alleyway next to Alcorn Adaptive Bike and Mobility Shop off Williams Road in Palm Springs with abandon. At 14, it was his first time riding a bike.

For Danny and others with certain disabilities, the simple task of riding an off-the-shelf bicycle is nearly impossible. With the new recumbent bike he received Saturday morning, though, he’s low to the ground and has the balance and safety of three wheels and pedals in front that make it easier to propel himself.

Danny’s sister Vasti said she knows how hard it is to find something that’s a good fit for him. “When he was little, he tried to ride a tricycle, but he couldn’t move the pedals with his feet,” she said. “He ended up just walking and pushing himself along.” 

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When Danny grew out of the tricycle, he tried using a bike, but there was too much balance and mobility required to stay upright.

His frustrations came to an end Saturday morning.

“We told Danny he was going to get his own bike, and he was so excited,” said Vasti. “He was literally counting the days.”

Danny wasn’t the only member of the Basilio family to benefit from the event. His brother, Benoni, who also has a disability that makes it hard for him to walk, was also on hand, but not scheduled to get a bike. When the shop’s owner, Jerry Alcorn, heard his story, he said, “Bring him in. We’ll find him a bike.”

Soon afterward Danny and Benoni were both cycling side-by-side, a scene likely to be repeated as summer stretches on. 

“That’s how it should be,” Alcorn remarked.

All told, nearly a dozen young people with developmental, mobility, or intellectual disabilities received adaptive bicycles as part of the Saturday event. It was made possible through the combined efforts of United Cerebral Palsy of Inland Empire (UCPIE) and those who staff Alcorn’s bike shop.

Some of the bikes were donated, others were purchased with donations, and the rest belonged to older children with disabilities who have since grown out of them. The Alcorn Adaptive team refurbished those bikes and made them like new again.

For many of the recipients, the event was years in the making.

“Some of these kids have been waiting seven or eight years for a bike,” explained Alcorn. The reason? These bikes can be prohibitively expensive — ranging in price from $450 to more than $4,000. No two bikes are the same, and Alcorn meets to evaluate the needs of every person his shop builds a bike for.

“There are kids who need more restraints than others. Some kids can ride a recumbent. Others may be better off using a hand cycle,” explained Sofia Campos, director of operations for UCPIE.

Brothers Benoni and Danny Basilio ride bikes with each other for the first time in their lives.

The families receiving bikes came from throughout the Inland Empire – traveling a lot fewer miles than they would have had to thanks to the fact Alcorn discovered there were no similar shops in the region and decided to open the Palm Springs shop in 2020. 

Brissa Gonzalez, her parents, and two sisters came from Fontana to pick up her new pink bike. When she became the first of the children to get a new bike, the entire shop applauded her.  After a fitting, she took off out of the garage and onto the concrete behind the shop, shouting, “Bye, dad!”

One by one, the rest of the children received applause and were off to ride — each with family members trailing behind, everyone grinning from ear to ear. What was usually just a gray parking lot came alive with shrieks of laughter as the children circled each other in bikes of all different sizes and styles.

For Alcorn, who also chairs the Palm Springs Parks and Recreation Commission, the morning took on an even more special meaning. A heavy machinery accident in 2014 left him with no feeling below the waist (He is what is known as a walking paraplegic), and when he was learning to use an adaptive cycle, he said he had to go to Los Angeles to get his bike serviced. 

He was determined none of the special customers serviced Saturday would have to go through the same experience, In the weeks leading up to Saturday’s event, he crisscrossed Southern California to pick up the bikes, going as far as Barstow. He was determined to stop at nothing to find solutions and help show those in attendance there are no limits. 

Watching over the activity in the shop Saturday morning, Greg Wetmore, president and CEO of UCPIE, asked Alcorn: “Did you ever think this place would be so busy?”

Alcorn could only shake his head in disbelief – a feeling also felt by Michael Porter, who assists Alcorn at the shop.

 “We thought we were going to have a slow summer season so we could catch up on some projects,” Porter remarked. “But it’s never slowed down.” 

“I’ve never had to advertise,” added Alcorn. “These crowds just show how great the need is. … Everyone deserves to have fun. Everyone is welcome in my shop.”

Campos said she sees each day how these bikes and other mobility and adaptive programs can change a child’s life. One story in particular sticks with her:

“We had a little boy who couldn’t hold his head up,” she recalled. “He hated physical therapy and wasn’t progressing. But when he got on one of these bikes, all of a sudden, he was holding his head up high because he was having so much fun.”

Moments like that are made possible by the hard work of volunteers and the generosity of donors. UCPIE fundraises throughout the year and recently raised $50,000 thanks to participation in the Tour de Palm Springs. The organization’s “Team Freedom” is the largest team of people with special needs in a non-competitive cycling event in the country.

Half of the $50,000 went to UCPIE’s after-school program, and the other half went toward the Adaptive Bike Program.

“It’s about paying it forward,” explained Campos. “We started donating a bike to just one child in 2012, and now we’ve donated 97 bikes.”

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