Easy as riding a bike…..

By Glen Jelley 


Jessica was our first child of 3 and we knew at the 19 week scan that she was going to have down syndrome so had a bit of time to prepare and research. 

She came into the world screaming her lungs out like any other child with people rushing around testing this and that. It was a good 15 mins before i was able to hold my beautiful baby girl. The next few days consisted of xrays, heart scans and blood tests. The results were encouraging with a small hole in the heart that they were confident would close over itself. 

We were able to take her home at around 6 days old. We were home 3 days when we received a phone call from a parent of a child with down syndrome that i used to babysit when i was in my teens. They started of with congratulations then proceeded to tell me about everything Jessica would never do, one of which was ride a 2 wheel bike. Not sure why that stuck in my head but it did. 

We were very lucky with the support services we had and got a lot of great advice. Not all of it was relevant but our thoughts were ‘listen to everything, take what works for you at the time and put the rest in the memory banks for later.’

We had her in a walker and jolly jumper from the time she could hold her head up herself. Once she could sit up by herself (around 12 months) we put her on one of those wee 3 wheel plastic doon buggy bikes in the house. Once she got the hang of not running over her feet, she was off. We also took her on lots of bike rides behind our bikes on a half wheeler I adapted to hold a car seat. I believe this helped with her balance. She loved it but would often go to sleep. 

Bike modifications

From there at around 2 and a half (she was just starting to walk) we went to a balance bike. She kept going back to the doon buggy as it was easier so big mean dad put it away in the garage. With a bit of work from Mum and Dad on the front lawn she soon mastered the balance bike and got up way too much speed for my liking as they don’t have brakes lol. 

She stayed on the balance bike till she was about 4.  We then stepped up to a 12 inch 2 wheeler pedal bike with training wheels. Looking back I think this is where we made our biggest mistake. We should have persevered and gone straight to the pedal bike with no training wheels, but as we were both working full time time was limited and this was the easy way to get her on the pedal bike. She stayed with the training wheels for about 2 years. We did lift them up and tried briefly a couple of times to take them off without success. 

Family bike ride

When she was around 6 or 7 we were at Miller’s flat camping at Christmas time for two weeks so we decided to make a concentrated effort to get those training wheels off. I took the training wheels off and we went over to the local school rugby field. Now I’m not going to say it all went smoothly and she was off and riding in a day, far from it. There were crashes, tantrums and plain old sitting on the ground and refusing to get on it. But with a bit of good old bribery and determination on her part we got her riding by the end of the holidays. Just by running along behind her holding her then the good old ‘yes Jessica i’m holding you’ (but not really) until she was off on her own. 

Jessica riding the trails

Now at the age of 10 we are all out riding the trails. She is now on a 18 inch bike with gears. We ride around 8 to 10 km’s at a time. That is more limited by her younger brother. Our big aim this year is to bike 13km’s from the camping ground to pinders pond, spend the day swimming and ride back home again. 

This year she is doing the bike section of the quadrathon at her school. Last year she did the 2km road run with her TA. 

What we have learnt and the moral of the story is given the same opportunities and a little extra pushing/encouragement (with some thinking outside the box) as a typical child they might just surprise you by what they can achieve (subject to what the doctors may have told you).