Extra mobility brings more magic into youngsters’ lives

Riding a bike is a pleasure that most children are fortunately able to take for granted.

Kellie and Jonathan Britton
Kellie and Jonathan Britton

But at a spot just off the A272 at North Chailey youngsters with special challenges in life are enthusiastic about a machine that could bring some magic into their lives.

The youngsters, their parents, and experts on mobility for children with physical handicaps are assessing the success of trial of machines called Petra running bikes.

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Chailey Heritage has long been renowned since its early days for its innovation in using the latest technology to helping often severely handicapped but bright youngsters achieve the best out of their lives, both in and out of the classroom.

Triple gold medal-winning Paralympian Sophie Christiansen OBE, visited children at Chailey Heritage Clinical Services recently to see the running bikes in action, and their effectiveness is still being assessed.

The project is funded by the children’s medical research charity Sparks and supported by Virgin Active Health Clubs, and aims to find out whether children with cerebral palsy can benefit from using individually adapted bikes.

Initial reaction after the first trials appears to be positive.

Keelie Sayers, pictured, was one of the youngsters chosen to try out the machine, watched by Sparks chairman Jonathan Britton who lives in Sussex with his family. Mr Britton said: “Watching the obvious thrill Keelie got from being able to move independently was wonderful to see.

“As parents of a child who was born with mild Cerebral Palsy and who was treated at Chailey Heritage we know how much can be done to improve their lives.

“We are delighted to be funding this innovative research and seeing the first steps with the Petra bikes we are confident it will bring lasting benefits to children such as Keelie.”

About 1 in 400 children are affected by cerebral palsy in the UK with about 1,800 new cases each year.

Children with cerebral palsy are more prone to lower limb muscle weakness, which contributes to pain, deformity and functional loss.

Makers of the Petra running bikes claim to offer a unique design that supports the child’s posture, and it is hoped that they will improve muscle and bone strength.

Liz Bryant, Senior Research Fellow at Chailey Heritage said: “Children with cerebral palsy have very limited opportunities to participate in exercise. The funding from Sparks will enable us to investigate whether novel devices such as running-bikes are a feasible and enjoyable mode of exercise and to determine their clinical benefit for children who are unable to walk independently. These running-bikes have the potential to allow children with cerebral palsy to take part in physical activity, as well as giving them freedom of movement and independence.”

Sophie said: “This innovative bike will give children with severe cerebral palsy the chance to try out an engaging and new form of exercise that could increase their physical fitness and improve quality of life. It also, after seeing the children’s demonstration, gives them the chance to run around with their friends and have fun.”

It seems if Sophie gets her way the children and their machines will roll on to a bigger stage.

Later, reviewing her visit, Sophie tweeted: “Hope to see it as a Para sport one day!”