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SAFETY FIRST Paul Maguire showing Hannah Dunford how to fasten a helmet while Olivia Sheridan offers a helping hand. Pic: Michael Donnelly

A novel cycling working shop aims to enable children with Down’s Syndrome

Edwin McGreal

This summer, all going to plan, an inspirational cycle will take place on the Greenway at Lough Lannagh, Castlebar. A group of Mayo children with Down’s Syndrome will strive to cycle a mile as part of one group to show the huge progress they have made behind the handlebars.
Their journey started earlier this month when they met in GMIT Castlebar on Saturday, April 1, under the tutelage of cycling coach Paul Maguire. It was a difficult ask for them, but as Maguire relates to The Mayo News, they all took their vital first steps.
“The first day was terrific,” Maguire told The Mayo News last week. “I got a huge, personal buzz out of it. For the parents to see such an advance in an hour was a big thing for them. One girl would not take her feet off the ground at the start but at the end was pedalling herself with me holding the saddle. That was a huge advance for her,” he said.
“The joy and happiness on the parents’ faces to see their kids cycling was very rewarding. The kids love it, and it is so good for them,” added Maguire.
Maguire and Billy Clarke are running a six-week course in Castlebar, with two weeks completed. It’s part-funded by the Mayo Down’s Syndrome Association and, depending on levels of interest, is planned to continue after its initial six-week run.
Children with Down’s Syndrome face a number of particular challenges when they try to learn how to cycle a bike, Maguire explains. “Information retention is a big issue. You have to be repetitive and keep going over stuff. Visuals work better than anything written down or even trying to explain things.
“Their co-ordination is not great, particularly in terms of pedalling and looking around. Balance is another issue, along with the fear of falling. Some children with Down’s Syndrome have a visual impairment, and that is another challenge,” he explained.

Cycling to Mayo
Maguire is a native of Dublin living in Partry for 35 years. His passion for cycling is clear. Only two days after completing his Leaving Cert in 1982 in Dublin, the then 18 year old put all his worldly possessions on the back of his bike and cycled to Partry.
It was from there that his mother had made the inverse journey as an 18 year old to Dublin. Maguire was determined to buck the trend. He now runs a bed and breakfast and a farm at Furnace, Partry.
In the late 1990s, he was involved in conducting road-awareness classes for young cyclists in national schools in Mayo. Last year, Maguire was asked to help a child with Down’s Syndrome learn how to cycle, and he did so using the track around Ballinrobe Racecourse last summer – without horses, of course.
From there, he fell into discussions with Down’s Syndrome Mayo about running a cycling workshop, and he completed a course online. A similar workshop exists in Dublin, but there are none in the west of the country.
Maguire wanted to seize the chance to give children with Down’s Syndrome the same sense of liberation that riding a bike gives other children.
“I get a great satisfaction from passing it on, especially to young children. A bike is a child’s first piece of independence. There will be falls and there will be hurt but kids get so much satisfaction out of it.
“With Down’s Syndrome, cycling is an activity you have to keep up because they lose the knowledge if they don’t maintain the habit.
“A lot of occupational therapists would say that if you can get them doing something like cycling it is hugely beneficial.
“One of the symptoms of Down’s Syndrome is obesity and problems with muscle tone. Swimming is a very good exercise, as is cycling. Cycling is much more accessible though. You can cycle around a house; it is a bit more of an effort to get into a swimming pool, especially if you are from a rural area.
“The ultimate goal with this group is to bring them cycling on the Greenway in Castlebar. If it is only a mile or two, cycling as a group with their families, that would be a huge thing,” Maguire added.
Watch this space.

For more information on the cycling workshops for children with Down’s Syndrome, contact Josephine Pearce of the Mayo Down's Syndrome Association on 087 6104330.

 

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