MORGANTOWN — Not everyone can pull off a neon pink unicorn bike helmet with a bright blue mane.
Samantha DeWitt can.
The 14-year-old had her haute headgear strapped on tight as she tested out a new set of wheels in the parking lot behind the Mountaineer Mall.
DeWitt took home one of nine adaptive bikes given away Thursday through an ongoing partnership between PlayWorks and Pittsburgh-based children’s charity Variety, which focuses on kids with special needs.
Charles LaVallee is Variety’s CEO. The E stands for “excitement,” or maybe “energy.” He brings both. He also served as the unofficial pace car for Thursday’s test ride.
“We want to enable these kids to live life to the fullest. We don’t want kids sitting on the porch watching everybody else ride a bike, so they get a bike made especially for them,” LaVallee said,
While the My Bike program came first, Variety also sponsors My Stroller and My Voices, which provides communication technology.
Four adaptive strollers were given away Thursday.
“We had a boy who was so excited to get the stroller because he wanted to go to the grocery store and pick out his own cereal,” LaVallee said. “We don’t even realize the things we take for granted. These families teach us just how big it is to be able to have a bike or be able to put your grandchild in a stroller and take them for ice cream.”
DeWitt is the third in her family to receive an adaptive bike. Her brother and sister received theirs in June.
The siblings were adopted by Annette and Keith Parker, who have two children of their own.
“We’re just so grateful,” Annette Parker said. “It means the world to the kids to be able to get out and go to the park or ride in the cul de sac around their house … You can’t just stop at a department store and buy a regular bicycle for a child with special needs. It just won’t work for them. These do.”
PlayWorks provides occupational, physical and speech therapy for children and adults with special needs. Its founder and owner, “Mr.” Mike Lentz, said he’s found the parents usually get more excited about the bikes than the kids.
“I think for the parents to be able to say ‘Here, you can do this,’ it’s just awesome,” Lentz said.
That’s kind of what Ranah LeBouf was feeling in the mall parking lot Thursday morning.
“When I found out that we were eligible, I was so excited. We’ve spent thousands and thousands on therapies to give Natalie the best opportunities she can have. We want her to be able to do what any other kid can do. And she can do it,” LeBouf said. “I know she can.”
As for four-year-old Natalie, she wasn’t all that jazzed about the fancy bells and whistles, but she’s got a giant grin and a pretty good eye for style in her own right.
“Pink,” she said when asked what she liked about her new ride.