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'A lifetime dream': Idaho adaptive athletes learning how to mountain bike

Dozens of athletes with physical challenges learned how to ride an off-road bike customized to their ability level thanks to the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

BOISE, Idaho — Athletes of various abilities are learning how to mountain bike using specialized equipment and training, courtesy of the Challenged Athletes Foundation of Idaho.

CAF Idaho is hosting a mountain bike clinic for adaptive athletes at the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation Bike Park this weekend.

The clinic is in partnership with Higher Ground, National Ability Center and Wasatch Adaptive, who also donated some of the equipment. 

14-year-old Liem Kaplan likes to stay active, but his mother, Nancy Kaplan, said some sports and activities are harder for him to get involved in because he has bilateral radial dysplasia. 

"He has different hands. He needs a bike adapted so that he can break and he can steer," Nancy said. "Imagine being 14 and not having a bike that works for you. So you can't go out with your friends. You can't ride your bike into town or on a trail."

Dozens of participants, including Liem, were able to learn how to ride an off-road bike with gears, brakes and other designs customized to their ability level. Attendees also got coaching and mentoring from members of the National Ability Center.

"I've been bawling. I'm just so happy. I mean, this really is a lifetime dream," Nancy said.

Whatever ability level or physical challenge some may have, CAF Idaho is there to show these athletes anything is possible.

"It's that light bulb moment," Chief Programs Officer, Jennifer Skeesick said.

Skeesick said it's not always a possibility for athletes to take part in physical activities like mountain biking or skiing, because specialized equipment can be costly. She said a handcycle can cost anywhere between $18,000 and $20,000.

Through their program, partnerships and grants, Skeesick said CAF Idaho is able to help athletes pay for equipment, training and other sporting expenses.

"We are trying to really make sure that people have what they need and that they can go ride in their communities, with their friends and their family as much as they like to," Skeesick said.

Wilson Dippo, an associate manager of CAF Idaho, said the strides the adaptive athlete community has made in the last few decades have been remarkable. He added that 20 years ago, he doesn't even believe adaptive mountain biking was even an activity to take part in.

"Just showing everyone that this exists as an option is crucial," Dippo said. "It's crucial for the athletes and it's also crucial for the community as well."

The Kaplans said they are grateful for the opportunities CAF Idaho gives them, especially because of the people they have met along the way.

"I think what's different about CAF Idaho is they take the time to get to know the individuals; the individual kids and adults and figure out what they need," Nancy said. "They figure out their personality and get them excited."

Skeesick said this past year, CAF Idaho has been able to give 118 grants to Idahoans, totaling more than $300,000. She said CAF Idaho is able to help get the grant program going thanks to donations by community members.

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