Adam Luke is partially paralyzed and has trouble with his balance because of spina bifida. He rode his little red tricycle until he was too big for it.
When the 4-year-old Lafayette boy received his first big-boy bike, a blue three-wheeler, he was ready to ride like his friends.
“He rode for two hours straight until I forced him to get off that first day,” said his mother, Kellie Luke.
The specially made tricycle cost more than $1,500, a steep sum for most parents. But a Baton Rouge-based charity, the McLindon Family Foundation, made it happen.
“We could have never afforded this bike for him on our own without fundraising,” Luke said.
Bicycles and tricycles for special needs children have adaptations like foot straps, torso supports and adjustable parts. They cost from $800 to $5,000, said Andrew McLindon, 53, founder of the foundation.
Over seven years, the McLindon Family Foundation has given away 89 adaptive tricycles to children in nine states, helping them feel the independence and freedom of riding a bike.
“Instead of sitting on the sidelines, sitting on the front steps, they’re now able to go out and ride with their brothers and sisters and friends,” McLindon said.
More than just a child’s toy, these machines can help children as much as therapy.
Adam’s tricycle, which he calls his “blue racer bike,” has assisted him in gaining strength and stamina, helping him walk, his mom said.
“They’re being asked to do all the things they do in therapy, but nothing is quite as fun as riding a bike,” said McLindon. “The bikes help them build strength, but the kids don’t look at it as exercise. They look at it as having fun.”
McLindon’s love of bicycles led him to give away adaptive bikes. After success with the commercial construction company he started in 1989, he added auxiliary businesses that became Mainspring Companies, a group of construction, maintenance and real estate development enterprises.
He hoped to find a project to help the community, and dreamed his charity work could be successful enough to outlive him.
In 2008, a friend of McLindon’s wanted to buy an adaptive tricycle for his son who had hydrocephalus, a build-up of fluid on the brain that causes poor muscle quality and balance problems among other symptoms. McLindon paid for the $800 tricycle.
That year, he gave away that one bike. He had trouble finding children in need until he met physical therapists who connected him to the families.
The next year, he bought five tricycles. In the third year, he gave away 10 more.
Friends wanted to donate to the cause, so McLindon applied for a nonprofit designation in 2011, officially creating the McLindon Family Foundation. Now more than 200 donors assist the charity, which gives away about $40,000 in adaptive tricycles a year.
Most of the donors give around $200, but many give $50 or $100.
No one involved in the charity takes a salary. McLindon, his family and his employees take on all the administrative duties, including assembling the bikes. McLindon spends about 40 hours a month on the foundation.
Without a website or an advertising budget, the foundation receives most of its publicity from its Facebook site.
That’s where Julie Bippus, 55, found out about the organization. Her 5-year-old granddaughter, Izabella Edds, of Slidell, has spina bifida, and every time they went to Wal-Mart, she would stare at the bikes and wish she could have one.
In January, she received her own pink tricycle, complete with a basket, from the foundation. “It was like someone really cared about what your needs are,” Bippus said.
When a youngster outgrows a bike, McLindon cleans it up and gives it to another child.
Katie LeBlanc, 18, of Baton Rouge, has “ridden the wheels off” the bike she received four years ago and is waiting for a racier model, McLindon said.
“To have a bike specialized for me is like freedom because I can be like other kids who have bikes,” she said.
LeBlanc, who has spina bifida, cannot pedal and uses a hand cycle powered by her arms. The competitive teen has raced in triathlons and bike races.
“It’s just been an eye-opener to how much I can actually do,” LeBlanc said. “It’s been really amazing.”
For the first time since the foundation began, McLindon has a waiting list. If the foundation raised $100,000 a year, more families would still need help.
Finding the money is a challenge McLindon loves.
“I absolutely found the project that brings me the greatest happiness,” McLindon said. “I’ll do it forever.”