By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
BARODA — Moving along the shoulder of Cleveland Avenue in Baroda, Caleb VanderWeide powers his bike with his shoulders.
He sits low to the ground with a tall flag attached to the back end to notify any oncoming traffic of his location. His bike has a large turning radius, and other than the parking break, VanderWeide only has a front break to stop. The two back wheels are similar to the positioning of what would be on a wheelchair.
Like a recumbent bicycle, VanderWeide rides in a slightly reclined position. However, he must pedal with his arms.
VanderWeide, 20, was diagnosed with spina bifida at a young age. The Baroda native is able to walk during everyday activities, but uses a wheelchair during athletic events.
The first time he rode an arm-powered bike was at a sports camp in Grand Rapids that provided the bicycles.
“He seemed to be on it constantly when he had the access to them, but they’re relatively expensive,” said Dan VanderWeide, Caleb’s father. “At the wheelchair sports camp he was able to use one. After that, he asked for one enough that we looked into getting one.”
After three years, VanderWeide has now logged more than 800 miles on his bike. Lately, he’s only been riding about once a week. But each trek VanderWeide completes has grown to account for 35 miles.
VanderWeide normally does round trips past various Baroda wineries and into the Bridgman/Lake Township region. He doesn’t like to take Cleveland Avenue all the way back due to its excess traffic and because that would be too easy of a route.
“He’s gone for three or four hours at a time,” said Tammy VanderWeide, Caleb’s mom.
VanderWeide said he has crashed on the bike before, but that normally comes from taking a corner at too high of a speed.
“I’ve spiked it at 23 (mph), but I can’t maintain that though,” he said. “And that was downhill, too.”
Dan said hand cycling has been a way for VanderWeide to condition for wheelchair basketball in the offseason when he comes home from college.
He attends the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he plays for their basketball team. At college, VanderWeide studies physical education with an emphasis on health and human performance.
Other adaptive sports he’s dabbled in over the years includes sled hockey, tennis and racquetball. However, wheelchair basketball has become a passion to complement his riding.
In the years since he was first introduced to the arm-powered bike, VanderWeide said riding has become more than just something fun to do.
“I like to show people you can do this stuff even with a disability,” he said. “People who have other problems might get encouragement from this. I don’t want people to look at a person in a wheelchair and think this person has a disability. I want them to think they are another person and they just need different equipment.”