Cycling Without Age Brings Freedom to Gold Coast Seniors

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You know how getting out in nature, chatting to strangers and seeing the sights can sometimes make all the difference to your day?  Thanks to global movement Cycling Without Age, seniors all over the world certainly do. The charity is committed to honouring seniors’ right to feel the wind in their hair, and Australia is catching on.

Cycling Without Age (CWA) allows seniors to experience the pleasures of cycling while someone else does the pedalling. You may have caught a glimpse of CWA in action last year on docuseries ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’, when retirement village residents were pedalled around a park on contraptions resembling five-star rickshaws. Those contraptions are called “trishaws”, and believe it or not, this sort of thing has been happening all over the world since CWA started in 2012 – minus the four-year-olds.

“Because the trishaws and people in the trishaws are a drawcard. They break down barriers, they’re different.”

Cycling Without Age on the Gold Coast

Wayne Stitcher started Australia’s newest CWA group (known as a “chapter”) on the Gold Coast this February.

“I watch a lot of YouTube clips about cycling and the impacts of cycling on the world and how it changes communities,” said Wayne. “And I came across a TED talk on Cycling Without Age, by the founder Ole Kassow.

And it just piqued my interest. I thought, ‘Wow, I can’t wait for somebody to start that on the Gold Coast!’ And about 12 months later, nobody did.”

So Wayne donned his bike helmet. He became the Gold Coast’s only accredited trainer of CWA volunteers and registered CWA Gold Coast as Australia’s 21st CWA chapter. At first he borrowed trishaw “Nessie” from Arcare Pimpama, which runs its own CWA program for its residents. “Nessie” worked wonders at fundraising events and Wayne was amazed by what a ride did for his parents in those first few months.

“It was just staggering. I’ve read so much on the benefits of CWA on aged people and also dementia patients, but to see the effect that it had on my parents really just drove it home.”

Wayne said he saw a huge boost in his parents’ mood since their first ride. His mother, who has advanced dementia, continues to speak of the experience.

A volunteer pedals a husband and wife on a Cycling Without Age trishaw.

Cycling Without Age Brings Community Connection

Dementia Australia says social isolation is a major issue for people with dementia. As well as fun, community connection is a key aspect of CWA.

“If people comment (during a trishaw ride), we’ll stop and we’ll give our passengers the chance to have a natter to them. And the community just love it. Just really, really love it,” says Wayne.

“Because the trishaws and people in the trishaws are a drawcard. They break down barriers, they’re different.”

The Gold Coast community rallied to raise funds, and CWA Gold Coast purchased its first trishaw in September. Astoundingly, one couple donated a second trishaw a few weeks later. The chapter is well on its way to a third trishaw which will carry passengers with wheelchairs, and the fleet of three could mean rides for hundreds of seniors every week.

To pedal that many rides you need trained volunteers. CWA requires that trishaw pilots are trained for at least six hours and assessed on their approved trishaw routes. Trishaws have seatbelts and top speed is ten kilometres per hour, which is plenty to get that wind going through one’s hair. Just as importantly, Wayne says, pilots must be alert to stop and chat with passers-by and observe interesting goings-on. One such attraction is pelican feeding hour at a well-known fish shop.

“We never ride on the roads. When we’re assessing a route for riding, there are a number of things that we look at. Firstly, community interaction is the biggie. Also safety, shared paths, shade facilities.

We also like our passengers to have a connection with nature. So that they’re going along and they’ll see birds, or whatever it is. Trees, we just stop and look at trees.”

“I felt like a kid again”

Mary Lind, resident of Arcare Pimpama

COVID-19 Restricts Some Chapters

While CWA Gold Coast is among the Australian chapters still able to operate during COVID restrictions, aged care residents have missed out on trishaw rides due to infection concerns. Arcare Pimpama, home of trishaw Nessie, had to stop trishaw rides due to COVID health directives. Lifestyle Coordinator Amanda McDonald says the facility hopes to resume its own trishaw program with its residents soon.

“Those clients who struggle with mobility issues absolutely love the sense of freedom they get from being on Nessie,” Ms McDonald said. “I have had clients say to me that they haven’t felt this free in years.

We took one client that had added riding Nessie to her bucket list and I had the privilege of being able to help mark that off her list. At the start of the ride she was quite unsure, clinging onto me, but by the time we got to the end of the street she was giggling and relaxed, having the time of her life.

She felt like a queen as we rode to the park and cars would beep and wave at us. On the return trip we were singing and laughing. She was more animated and energised then I had seen her in a long time.” 

Hopefully seniors around Australia will soon have windy hair again. Meanwhile, CWA Gold Coast continues its trishaw rides. Visit CWA Australia’s website to find out about a chapter near you.  

Go here to donate toward a wheelchair-friendly trishaw for CWA Gold Coast.

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