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‘Ready to ride’: Former Olympian turns talents to sharing the road with riders of all abilities

A bike shop in Wisconsin manufactures custom-bicycles for children with disabilities. | Courtesy Envato stock image
MILWAUKEE (WDJT) — A trip to a bike shop has the parents of a Shorewood boy, born with a rare condition that mirrors Down Syndrome, feeling renewed hope. Now, they want to tell other families about the freedom they’ve found.
“He was diagnosed with Au-Kline syndrome which is a rare syndrome. He couldn’t pick his head up until about six months of age. We found out that he had it randomly. We put him in a study at Children’s and they found it. I never imagined him doing stairs, getting in and out of a car,” said Jamie Wojciechowski, Elliott’s mom.
The Au-Kline syndrome diagnosis right from the start was concerning. Some state programs for children with disabilities helped, but the Wojciechowskis say it was a lucky break when someone pointed them to a program they hoped could help Elliott’s physical strength, and even subsidize the cost. That landed them in Emery’s Cycling, Triathlon and Fitness shop on Lisbon Avenue where co-owner Brent Emery was able to design a bike that matches Elliott’s needs.
“It changed his ability to be independent and move other than just you know limited on the ground,” said Emery.
Elliott’s even allowed to ride his bike at school.
“He would call me out and be like Hi and I’d be like Hi and I’d go out and give him a hug -and my teachers wouldn’t mind so,” said Allie Wojciechowski, Elliott’s sister.
“It was hard to get him to exercise, he would rather just always watch, so having the bike and its assistance with things and safety of the feet being strapped in so he didn’t feel like he was going to fall off, all that stuff does help and so he would exercise and yea,” said Jamie Wojciechowski.
But outside school, it was a different story.
“They’ll do things for strangers that they wouldn’t do for you as the parent, he pretends he can’t do it you know,” said Jamie Wojciechowski.
Years later, Elliott’s parents found a new addition that’s keeping him active at home too.
“Fully electric, you have a throttle that you can use. You have an assist so you turn on the bike and as Brent said, you don’t start on five or you’ll peel out (giggles)” said Jamie Wojciechowski.
This is the first time Elliott got on their new recumbent bike. Jamie gets choked up recalling his smile that day, so big.
“Wind blowing and he’s carefree and he’s smiling so,” said Jamie Wojciechowski.
The smiles continued a month later.
“I like the blue one,” said Elliott. We asked, “How come?” Elliott said, “Because I ride it with Mommy.”
“We deal with a lot of children, more so than the adults with a disability because there’s just some good programs out there to fund it. So it’s not just families that can afford this, if somebody really is in a situation that they want to get the at-home benefits of physical therapy with a bike, we’re gonna find a way to make it happen no matter what it takes,” said Emery.
Emery’s has been in business since 1963. Brent took a leave of absence in 1984 because something big came calling his name – the Olympics!
“It was 12 laps on a banked bike track and so about 2.5 miles. You start with the four of you together, and we had some real adventures with mechanical stuff and crashes and double crashes and but by the time that we got to the semifinals, we beat the current world record holders and world champions,” said Emery.
Brent has an award-winning story himself, having competed in the 1984 Olympics, his team bringing home a silver medal and getting to meet the President and First Lady.
“When I went off into the bike racing world and came back into our business, I was looking for things to really do to spread our wings and do more in our community,” said Emery.
Forty years later, Emery’s is one of the few bike shops around the country specializing in making adaptive bikes.
“We built over 1500 disability bikes right now, that’s changed some 1500 lives plus all those families that are with them, and you know,” said Emery.
From the minute families walk in the door until they leave, the personal touch is clear.
“Now look at my nose. I got a funny nose. It’s easy to look at,” said Emery to Jax who will be in third grade soon.
“Now how do you feel on this one because you’ve got the three-wheel bike at home,” said Emery.
This summer, Steve Christianson says his son Jax is hoping to learn a new skill. They’re here getting an assessment on a bike.
“He is going into an I Can Ride Camp in a few weeks, and we wanted to make sure that he was gonna get the right size bike and we know that Emery’s does a really good job,” said Christianson.
“It’s been just a wild ride because we’re making parts that don’t exist. We’re doing things that are pressing manufacturers to make their products better and we’re really making bikes that look more like their friends and siblings’ bikes than just specific bikes that somebody is like oh that person has a disability,” said Emery.
“That’s ready to ride,” said Emery.
“We built a bike a few years ago for a young man. He was only born with half arms on both sides and below his belly button, wasn’t born with anything and I told the family, I said I have no idea what I’m gonna do, what the bike’s gonna look like, how long it’s gonna take, even how much it’s gonna cost, but I said if you want him to ride a bike, we’re gonna find a way,” said Emery.
Brent says the National Bike Dealers Association has 8-thousand bike shops in it. He put out an hour-long tutorial to teach others in the business how to make adaptive bikes.
“And we need a thousand shops servicing the needs of people with disabilities instead of a couple dozen,” said Emery.
And while back in 1984, it may have appeared an Olympic medal would be his legacy, all these years later, for Brent, it’s this, hands down.
“The medal, I got to say I got an Olympic medal, it changed my life for sure, but it didn’t change everybody else’s life. So doing everything that we can to get as many disability bikes built and to encourage other places around the world to start doing more of this, that has a much bigger impact. It’s absolute gratification every day,” said Emery.

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