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Cycling program combats loneliness, isolation among the elderly

in Community

By David Stenklyft, Wausau Pilot and Review

An international project helping senior citizens enjoy the summer is now available in the Wausau area, led by first-year medical school student Jacob Shields.

Jacob Shields is spearheading a local chapter of Cycling Without Age, a program that aims to combat loneliness among the elderly. Photo credit: David Stenklyft/Wausau Pilot and Review

Cycling Without Age is a movement started in 2012 by Ole Kassow.

Kassow wanted to help the elderly get back on their bicycles, but he had to find a solution to their limited mobility. He found the answer in a trishaw, and soon began using the light three-wheeled vehicles to offer free bike rides to local nursing home residents.

He then got in touch with a civil society consultant from the City of Copenhagen, Dorthe Pedersen, who was intrigued by the idea. Together, they bought five trishaws and launched Cycling Without Age. The initiative quickly spread to all corners of Denmark, and since 2015 to another 40 countries around the world. Today, there are about 12,000 chapters worldwide.

Now, elderly Wausau-area residents are enjoying the feel of the wind in their hair with the help of volunteers who guide them through neighborhoods and places they might not otherwise have the chance to see.

Shields, a member of the Community Pathways Project, chose this to combat isolation and loneliness in the elderly. The program allows opportunities to socialize with another rider and pilots, plus see and interact with the community.

Shields has received positive responses from several groups including North Central Health Care, Mount View Care Center, Primrose Memory Care, Primrose Retirement Community, Wausau YMCA, Opportunities, Inc, and Rennes Care Center. He and his fellow volunteers have also connected with Wisconsin Bicycle Federation, Trek Bicycle store in Wausau, Marathon County Planning Organization, the City of Wausau, Northcentral Technical College and Briq’s soft serve for contributions to make this incredible project happen.

Cycling Without Age dreams of “creating a world together, in which the access to active citizenship creates a happiness among our fellow elderly citizens by providing them with an opportunity to remain an active part of society and the local community,” according to their mission statement.

“We do that by giving them the right to the wind in their hair, the right to experience the city and nature close up from the bicycle and by giving them an opportunity to tell their story in the environment where they have lived their lives.”

The result? Building bridges between generations while reinforcing trust, respect, and the social glue in our society.

Pilot training for becoming a trishaw driver is planned for May 17 and 18 at Opportunity, Inc., 740 Third St., Wausau.

Trishaws are not 100 percent pilot driven. The bicycles include a motorized boost, which is helpful for uphill travel.

The group is actively fundraising, aiming to raise about $35,000 to fund this season’s activities. To donate or volunteer, find the group on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.con/cyclingwithoutagemarathoncounty

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