The wind on your skin. The rush as your wheels gain speed on a downhill. The feelings of freedom and boundless possibility. Riding a bike is undeniably one of the great pleasures in life.
For children and adults with physical limitations, however, that experience often feels out of reach.
That’s where Hal Honeyman steps in. Through his nonprofit organization, Project Mobility, he has made it his mission to bring adaptive bikes to children, adults, and wounded veterans with disabilities. He’s making sure the joy of riding a bike — as well as the mental, physical, and social benefits of cycling — is accessible to all.
A Shift in Perspective
Honeyman has been crazy about bikes since he was 13. As a teen growing up in St. Charles, Illinois, he worked at The Bike Rack; his family later purchased the shop in 1975, transforming it over the years into one of the largest bike dealers in the Chicago area, he says.
Project Mobility came along in 2003, inspired by Honeyman’s son, Jacob. One of triplets, Jacob was born extremely prematurely and developed cerebral palsy. When his sisters were 3, they wanted to learn to ride bikes. Not wanting Jacob to miss out, Honeyman researched and purchased an adaptive bike.
“It was life-changing for him,” Honeyman said.
Immediately, Honeyman knew he wanted to help other kids like Jacob. He began finding adaptive bikes for children with disabilities, even building bikes when an individual needed something that wasn’t on the market.
Honeyman estimates that Project Mobility has paired more than 15,000 riders with specialty bikes. It delivers bikes to schools, rehabilitative hospitals, and other places serving kids with disabilities. It hosts a variety of recreational events, traveling all over the country to fit children, adults, and veterans to adaptive bikes and teach them to ride. The nonprofit also holds adaptive bike giveaways throughout the year; adaptive bikes are costly and not typically covered by insurance.
You’ve Got the Look
Project Mobility helps individuals with vastly different backgrounds and disabilities, but Honeyman says one thing is always the same: the happiness on their face when they get on a bike.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a kid or an adult, that freedom and engagement and smile on their face is always there. Some of our events have a grueling schedule,” he said. “We spend hours on the road and in the sun putting people on bikes. At the end of the day, I can hardly move, but it feels good.”
For kids, riding a bike often means getting a chance to participate in a classic childhood milestone. “For the younger kids, cycling is a rite of passage,” Honeyman said. “We bring in specialty equipment to allow them to be successful and participate like other kids. The next thing you know, these kids are grinning ear to ear, riding a bike.”
Evi, an 11-year-old with quadriplegic cerebral palsy and dystonia, learned last summer she would be the recipient of a Project Mobility giveaway. For years, Evi has wanted to ride a bike with her sister, cousins, and friends. Now, that dream is becoming a reality.
“It’s hard to watch her watch other kids having fun, because she’s become the little cheerleader of our family. She’ll cheer on everyone else playing and riding bikes, even though she’s not able to join in,” said Evi’s grandmother, Marina, who nominated her for the giveaway.
“Something like this was completely out of reach for us, because there’s always something more critical that Evi needs,” Marina continued. “But at the same time, she’s going to get so much psychological benefit from having a bike just like the other kids. It’s very rewarding for her and gives her some independence, freedom, and confidence.”
Serving Those Who Served
Project Mobility’s work is likewise life-changing for the veterans it serves. For many of them, riding a bike was once a normal everyday pleasure that abruptly became inaccessible.
“These people were able to ride a bike and suddenly lost the ability, but we give them the tools to get that part of their life back,” Honeyman said. “It’s life-changing.”
That’s no exaggeration. Honeyman says multiple veterans have come up to him a year or two after receiving bikes with a message of profound gratitude. “They tell me we changed the trajectory of their life, and otherwise they wouldn’t be here,” he said. “It’s mind-boggling the impact we’re able to have.”
This summer, Honeyman and Project Mobility will be making stops in St. Louis for events with a variety of organizations, including Variety, St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s Camp Independence, and Disabled Athlete Sports Association.
If you’re interested in helping Project Mobility in its mission, e-mail Hal Honeyman at firstname.lastname@example.org. The nonprofit welcomes both monetary donations and donations of time.
“We’re always looking for people locally to help out,” Honeyman said. “It’s a two-way street, and it’s super rewarding.”
Author: Stephanie Zeilenga is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.
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