When she saw her 8-year-old son, Nicholas, pedaling down a sidewalk Friday, Catherine Thomas burst into tears.
Nicholas has cerebral palsy, which limits the strength of his legs and one arm.
Thanks to a donation by the Kiwanis Club of Severna Park, he and other children at Jones Elementary School in Severna Park now can experience this rite of passage.
"I really thought it would take months," Thomas said.
Kiwanis members contributed $2,000 to purchase a therapeutic tricycle so kids with physical disabilities can pedal and ride.
"It's a skill many of them couldn't learn if they didn't have specialized equipment," said Principal Diane Bragdon.
Nicholas' mother learned about such tricycles from a physical therapist years ago. Nicholas had enjoyed therapeutic horseback riding since he was 2 years old, and the therapist said such a bike also would help him stretch his muscles.
"It was a way to be mobile that was a little more acceptable, without a wheelchair," Thomas said.
However, fearing Nicholas might grow out of the expensive equipment too quickly, they put off further investigation.
But after his eighth birthday, Nicholas, who doesn't speak, came home and used his electronic picture-symbol communication device to tell his mother he wanted to ride a bike.
Thomas mentioned the therapeutic model to school officials, who tried to borrow a bike from one of Anne Arundel's special education centers for severely disabled students. They quickly found that trikes at those schools had been donated by service organizations and could not be lent to others.
"They treat them like little pieces of gold," Thomas said.
She then decided to contact groups on her own to try to raise the funds, and the Kiwanis met the challenge.
The organization's motto is "Children first," said Jim Stands, president of the 32-member group.
Members were glad to provide help for the physically disabled children at Jones, he said.
"It's one of the best investments that we've made," Stands said Friday.
They raised the money for the trike, as well as headgear, accessories and shipping, through fund-raisers such as their annual golf outing and apple sale, he said. Thomas added a miniature Kiwanis license plate behind the seat.
The tricycle, which sports several features to accommodate students' individual needs, also allows the kids to experience a sense of independence they may not otherwise be able to enjoy, Thomas said.
"It kind of makes them feel like they're part of the group as well," said Theresa Kinsinger, a physical therapist at Jones.
It has a low center of gravity and seatbelts for those who need extra support to sit up. Other elements such as a pull bar allow assistants to help the child steer and propel the bike.
The activity stretches their muscles, improving circulation, Kinsinger said.
Special education teacher Chris Winstanley and Margaret Tenney, an aide who works with Nicholas, helped him demonstrate the trike Friday for Kiwanis members and his parents.
The principal pushed Catherine Thomas, who was in a wheelchair after knee surgery Thursday.
Tenney trotted alongside Nicholas as he rode on the sidewalk, helping him avoid bike racks and walls. Nicholas clapped his hands in excitement.
"Oh my God. He can do it," his mother said.
"Can we keep up with him is the question," the principal said.
Kinsinger helps kids use the trike during her sessions. Also, those in the special education program might use it during recess, she said.
Children in the class attend physical education and cultural arts classes with other kids their age level, where the teachers adapt activities to include all the students. They also may use the trike during physical education, at the teacher's discretion.
The trike will stay at the school, which is a cluster site for children with serious disabilities. At least five with mobility difficulties will use the trike as part of their physical therapy regimen, Bragdon said.
But those with attention difficulties or coordination problems will use it as well, Winstanley said.
"I think that riding the bike is good practice for all of those issues," she said.
And even after Nicholas graduates, Thomas said, "it's going to benefit kids for the next 20 years."