Cyclists bring world of 2 wheels to Linwood's autistic students


September 07, 1999|By Sally Voris | Sally Voris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

JEREMIAH BISHOP finished second in a field of 27 cyclists in the last race of the Druid Hill Criterium Series.

The race, held at Druid Hill Park in Baltimore Aug. 31, was sponsored by Chesapeake Wheelmen -- Maryland's oldest bicycle racing club. The club sponsors two races every Tuesday evening from May to Labor Day.

Bishop, who lived in Ellicott City for two years, recently moved to Highland. In July, he was one of about 10 cyclists who went to Linwood Children's Center in Ellicott City to talk to the students about bicycles and bicycle safety as part of a program sponsored by the club. Among the visiting cyclists were Don Forgione, Andrew Hobby, Adam Forgione and Myron Williams -- all from Ellicott City.

Linwood Children's Center is a small, private, nonprofit school for autistic children. About 30 students, ages 6 through 21, attend day and residential programs there.

When Bishop and the other cyclists arrived, it was raining. The students, who were to ride their bikes outdoors for the visiting cyclists after the presentation, had to stay inside.

The cyclists showed the students gathered in the school's physical education room how to oil a chain, adjust a helmet and maintain a bike.

Then Bishop, 27, a professional mountain biker, did wheelies and jumped obstacles on his bike for the students.

The club donated two bikes, helmets and T-shirts to the center, and gave each student a water bottle.

The young people were enthusiastic, said Warren Sraver, executive director at the school.

"Autistic children have serious communication problems," he said, "not just in speech, but in understanding language. You can't assume that information is being understood as you can with other students."

But bicycles are attractive even to autistic children who can't ride, or don't ride well, he said. "They like the equipment, the spinning wheels, the way the mechanisms operate, the colors."

On Aug. 31 at Druid Hill Park, cyclists in brightly colored racing uniforms gathered, with their thin-wheeled bikes, at the starting line before the second race. The area was quiet and pastoral; the road through the park almost empty.

Ellicott City residents Jennifer Scott, Nils Dennis and Rob Preiss were among the racers, as were Forgione and his son, Patrick, age 10.

Across a grassy field, about 100 yards away, a softball game was in progress. It was a clear evening with a touch of fall in the air.

And then a group of about 10 people ambled toward the registration table, set up under two mature buckeye trees. Some held hands; others walked with arms around each other's shoulders. They were students and counselors from Linwood who had come to watch the race.

Forgione had organized the bike safety event at the school. He greeted the Linwood group and walked with them to the steps of the park administration building -- a stucco and wood Victorian structure on top of the hill overlooking the race course.

His son, Patrick, came with him.

The small group of Linwood students, ages 9 to 16, sat on the steps of the building to watch. There was no place else to sit. The race course stretched out below them. Every two minutes, the lead car, followed by a pack of bicycles, raced by.

Elkridge resident Chuck Miller drove the car, a bright red, blue and yellow Volkswagen Golf. His toddler, Taylor, sat in a child's seat in the back. Taylor loves to go around in circles, Miller said.

Linwood student Patrick Chambers, a round-faced boy with soft eyes and a cowlick, remembered Bishop's stunts.

"I pretend my bike is a motorcycle," he said.

He was trying on Forgione's biking shoe.

It was a beautiful evening. The Linwood students gazed at the field sloping away from the steps of the mansion. They looked around at the park.

As the race drew to a close, the windows of the Esplanade and the Emersonian -- two venerable apartment buildings on Eutaw Place -- reflected the gold of the setting sun.

Bishop was finishing his last lap and the Linwood students were gone.

Bishop leads a ride for teens into Patapsco Valley State Park in Elkridge on Thursday afternoons. Sometimes, he says, he rides all day in the Daniels area of the park without seeing anyone.

Information about the teen ride: Jeremiah Bishop, 301-854-3769; information about the Chesapeake Wheelmen: Keith Shuey, 410-247-4064.

Crab cake and ham

Trinity Episcopal Church is holding its crab cake and ham dinner from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday at the church hall, 7575 Washington Blvd., Elkridge.

Parish members make the crab cakes using parishioner Kitty Baker's recipe. She directs the effort and her daughter, Kay Schoo, helps.

The cost for dinner is $12.50 for adults; $5 for children, ages 6 to 12. Children age 5 and younger eat free. The proceeds will help raise money for a new building.

Information: 410-799-7974.

All you can eat

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