Written by Sara Burrows
An international network of volunteers are helping the elderly get out of the nursing home and into nature on the front of their bikes.
“Cycling Without Age” founder Ole Kassow of Copenhagen, Denmark got the idea when he passed by an old man sitting on a park bench on his bike ride to work each morning.
“I bet he would like to ride a bike,” he said in a Ted Talk.
So he showed up at the nursing home with a rented rickshaw and asked who wanted a ride. After an hour-long ride along a boardwalk with an elderly woman, Kassow felt he’d time traveled with her, listening to stories about how she’d waited for loved ones to arrive there after the war.
A few days later, Kassow got a call from the nursing home saying all the other residents wanted rides too.
So he started offering them in his spare time.
“I made lots of unlikely friends,” he said.
After the city caught wind of his adventures, they bought him 5 rickshaws, to be stationed at 5 nursing homes. Kassow recruited friends to volunteer for a test ride.
After their first group ride was publicized on the BBC, 30 more volunteers signed up.
Soon, the idea spread to other cities and around the world. There are now 10,000 volunteer rickshaw “pilots” in 1,100 chapter locations around the world.
“People who hadn’t been talking for years started talking again,” Kassow said. “People suffering from dementia would lose their aggression and have lifted spirits after their bike rides. Blind residents enjoyed smelling the flowers, hearing the birds and feeling the wind in their hair.”
“I haven’t been on vacation in 15 years and this is the best holiday I’ve ever had,” a 90-year-old woman told him after a long group ride.
“When we grow old, we lose the stories of our lives and the witnesses to them,” Kassow said.
“Cycling Without Age” gives the elderly an opportunity to tell those stories, make new friends, and improve their mental health.
“One of our young volunteers literally got himself a new set of grandparents by giving rides to a couple that had been together 70 years,” Kassow said.
“It’s the most enjoyable volunteer work I’ve done,” a Dutch volunteer named Marian tells BrightVibes.com.
“And we’ve never ended up in a ditch together,” says one of her regular passengers, Mevruuw Venema in a video.
Marian went on bike rides with her mother until she was 92 or 93. “Then she became too old, so we bought her a wheelchair bicycle.”
When her mother passed away, she thought “there must be other moms or dads who would love this.” Sure enough, there were.
Pictured above: Marian and her substitute “mother” Mevruuw Venema
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