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Ottawa cyclist back on a ‘walking bike’ a decade after a critical injury

Joanne Schnurr, CTV News Ottawa
Published Tuesday, May 14, 2019 3:05PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 14, 2019 6:44PM EDT

Robert Wein is back on a bike seat for the first time in a decade.  Wein was one of 5 Kanata cyclists hit by a van driver in 2009.

Now a new invention called the “walking bike” is helping him and about 20 other mobility-challenged folks prepare for a 2-K ride during Race Weekend in Ottawa.

Learning something new is never easy especially if you’ve suffered the kind of traumatic injuries Robert Wein has.

Robert Wein with Liquid Gym owner Karen Snyder.

“I was basically broken,” he says.

It will be ten years this July that Wein’s life changed when a van plowed into him and 4 other cyclists.  Wein was the worst hit; he was given a 50/50 chance of surviving and then told it was unlikely he’d ever walk again.  But this athlete, who had done triathlons didn’t take that news sitting down.

Today, however, for the first time since that horrific accident, he is sitting, in a bicycle seat, and remembers well that feeling.

“It’s been ten years,” he says with a smile, “and boy, I felt the pain in my bottom.”

It is “training day” outside the Liquid Gym in Ottawa’s west end.  Owner Karen Snyder has purchased 50 of these walking bikes, called Alinkers after Dutch inventor Barbara Alink.  Snyder is getting the group ready for the 2-k “run” Race Weekend.

She says it’s amazing to watch their reaction on the bikes, after years of immobility.

“If you have someone who moves with a walker, very slowly,” she says, “and they sit down and have that freedom, they start laughing and have this sense of joy. It’s unbelievable.”

Kelda Whalen hasn’t been able to get on a bike in 35 years. She suffers from Dystonia, a neurological disorder that can involuntary muscle contractions, resulting in repetitive movements or abnormal postures. 

“I used to love to bicycle when I had balance,” says Whalen, who lives near the canal, “but I don’t have balance anymore. Now I’ll be able to do that.”

Snyder says the advantage of the walking bike over the walker is that it is better for the back, better for the posture, but better from a social aspect.  Snyder says it gives people that eye to eye contact.

For Mary Bolt, who has osteoporosis and has had two hip surgeries, it has given her the freedom to go where she wants.

“I take this every with me,” she says, as she zooms along, “to the grocery story, to the mall, even to a bar,” she laughs.

For Robert Wein, that sense of freedom makes him believe that anything’s possible.

“This is basically, it’s heaven,” he says.

This group has been meeting every Wednesday for weeks now, practising with these bikes, preparing for this race and fully intending to finish it.

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