Chris Killoran crossed the finish line of the Ottawa Hospital Foundation’s The Ride fundraiser astride her three-wheeled Alinker “walking bike,” her friend Fiona Amanya on one arm, Ride volunteer Janet Mantler on the other.
Tears streamed down her face.
“I didn’t plan to do that,” Killoran said as she dried her eyes and regained her composure after her one-kilometre circuit of Tunney’s Pasture on Sunday morning.
“I would never have believed that this was something I could do.”
Six years ago, Killoran had a ruptured aorta. She was rushed to the Montfort Hospital, where she had three more heart attacks before she was stablilized and transferred to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. She endured 12 hours of surgery and spent a month in hospital before returning home.
“I’ve been getting better ever since,” she said proudly.
“My right leg started to give out on me toward the end and I thought, ‘I’m not going to make it! I’m not going to make it!’ And then this lady appears out of nowhere on my right (Mantler). My friend on my left (Amanya). And they helped me through. It was a team effort and I’m thrilled.”
Killoran was among 700 riders who participated in The Ride along the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, raising $1.07 million for health care and cancer research at The Ottawa Hospital. While two-wheelers set out on circuits of 50 and 109 kilometres, 50 riders pushed themselves along the shorter one-kilometre course on their Alinkers, marking the first time the mobility assistance devices had been used in The Ride. The Alinkers were part of a team from Ottawa’s LiquidGym training and rehab centre.
Liquid Gym founder Karen Snyder had one client on an Alinker and said she instantly knew the gym needed a fleet of them.
“Anyone with a mobility challenge — whether it’s a hip replacement, a knee replacement, MS or cerebral palsy — can use one. We’ve got one guy who fell and broke his neck. Or someone with weight issues. It’s great for doctors to say ‘Lose weight,’ but, if they can’t move, it’s very hard from them to lose weight. This gets them moving.”
Inventor Barb Alink, who took part in Sunday’s Ride, said she developed the bike to help out her stubborn Dutch mother. She is, as far as she knows, the only woman to design and build a bike completely on her own.
Most medical devices are designed for a body that has a problem, Alink said, not for the way people want to live.
“Why are the emphasizing the disability? That’s not right. I set out to make something that is so cool, people will want to use it.”
Alinker riders sit upright with a straight posture and at eye level with others. It’s a subtle, but meaningful difference for those who would otherwise be in wheelchairs or hunched over walkers.
“It has been life-changing,” Killoran said. “It takes me places I couldn’t go before and hadn’t been for years. It changes the way people look at you. They look you right in the eye now.
“You get a little bit more respect and a lot more function.”