Manitoba

'So much beyond just a bike': Customized bike stolen from Winnipeg man with special needs

The leader of a group home is asking Winnipeggers to keep their eyes peeled for a customized yellow bike with a tiger bell that belongs to an ‘awesome guy’ he works with named Kevin.

Bike built for man with special needs stolen from West Kildonan group home June 2

Kevin, a resident in a St. Amant-run group home, rides his beloved customized bike. It was stolen from the West Kildonan yard overnight on June 2. (Branden Defoort)

The leader of a group home is asking Winnipeggers to keep their eyes peeled for a customized yellow bike with a tiger bell that belongs to an 'awesome guy' he works with named Kevin.

Kevin, 55, lives in a group home with three others in West Kildonan. On the evening of June 2, he put his bike in the backyard, as both gates were padlocked closed. When he went to get it the next morning, it was gone.

"It's hard to prepare for these things because I feel like we're all honest people and we didn't expect anything like this to happen," said Branden Defoort, 24, team leader for the home for people with disabilities, which is run by St. Amant.

He said the bike was new, and Kevin had just bought a shed in which to lock it up, but they hadn't had a chance to set it up yet.

"People might have seen it and said, 'Oh, this is a fun joyride, or, 'This is gonna be a quick paycheque.' But for Kevin, this is a means for his health; this is a matter of accessibility and access to his community, and for him it's just so much beyond just a bike."

The three-wheeled, low-to-the ground bike gave Kevin a level of freedom and mobility he wouldn't have otherwise. He had recently moved to the group home and independent community living, but in doing so, he left his old bike behind.

Kevin's custom-built bike has two wheels in the back and the seat is upright to help with his balance. The special handlebars allow allow him to steer and get around safely. (Branden Defoort)
The St. Amant Foundation campaigned to raise money for the customized ride because of how much having a bike meant to Kevin.

In the spring, they presented him with the $4,000 ride — in his favourite colour, yellow — from Freedom Concepts.

"They basically customized the bike to fit his needs, his height, his weight, and this is all done with support from physiotherapists and occupational therapists,"said Defoort.

The bike has two wheels in the back and the seat is upright to help with Kevin's balance. The special handlebars allow allow him to steer and get around safely.

"He was really excited for it. We took it to Birds Hill Park, we got to check out the trails there, and it was awesome … It gave him the freedom to independently ride the bike for himself and you could tell that he had lots of pride in doing that," said Defoort.

'He can't just use another bike'

Since the bike was stolen, Kevin has been keeping busy, Defoort said, but news of the theft caused him to go quiet and withdraw a little bit.

"He can't just use another bike. Kevin does not have any means of biking. And that's how he exercises," he said.

He and other staff at St. Amant have been searching the neighbourhood, scouring Kijiji and pawn shop websites, and spreading the word about the bike on Facebook. But so far, nothing.

He appreciates everyone who is spreading the word and how seriously people are taking the theft. Staff and Kevin filed a police report about the incident on June 3.

"The police kept calling them [the thieves] jokers, like, 'We're going to do our best to find these jokers,'" he said.

"In a way it's nice that so many people care, but I'm just really disappointed for Kevin obviously."

He said if the return of the bike would also mean the return of Kevin's mobility, and his favourite way to enjoy his community and meet people.

"I just don't think it's worth $4,000 for another person to take those meaningful things away from Kevin."

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