Tilly Hardy listens to the question and takes time to compose herself, but can’t fight off the emotions as the tears being to flow.
Hardy, 91, is asked about what riding on a trishaw bike has meant to her.
“I miss being outside: the freedom and the wind blowing in your hair, the sunshine, seeing the beautiful yards people have. I don’t get out to see that but I would like to,” Hardy said. “With this bike ride, I do get to see that. It’s a lovely feeling."
Hardy is a resident of Swan Evergreen Village, a senior's active care facility in southwest Calgary. Last year, she had the opportunity to go for a couple of rides on trishaw bikes around the community.
Specialized electric pedal-assisted trishaws are equipped with a front bench that allows two to sit while a pilot (the driver) pedals from behind. Rides come courtesy of Cycling Without Age, an organization that started in Denmark in 2012 and now has chapters in over 50 countries around the world. The aim is simple: to take seniors and people with mobility issues for bike rides. As a side benefit, the program helps reduce social isolation and increases both mental and physical health for senior riders and drivers, too.
Calgarian and outdoor enthusiast Jane Hu is the founder and executive director of the Calgary chapter of Cycling Without Age. (Other Alberta chapters exist in Edmonton, High River, Beaumont, Canmore, Rimby and Camrose). Hu says her passion is bringing joy to people and hearing their stories, something she sees first hand when bringing trishaw bike rides to senior care homes, activity centres and community groups.
“Often, we put seniors in a new community where they don’t know the streets. On the bikes, we get them familiar with their neighbourhood," said Hu. "After the rides, people start to go for longer walks on their own because they now know that there is a coffee shop three blocks away, the river is two blocks away, there’s a beautiful view over here. We are integrating them back into the community and the community is embracing them.”
Hu says benefits even extend to the bike pilots, often senior volunteers who want to give back to their communities, who get to see the happiness and hear stories from those riding up front.
Hardy, whose husband Ed lives in the same senior's facility, says the couple spent years travelling North America on a Honda motorcycle criss-crossing Canada and even up to the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Alaska. Hu recalls taking the pair for a trishaw ride.
“There are days he doesn’t remember his wife,” said Hu. “We get on the bike and, no word of a lie, we are only half a block away from the care home, when he grabs her hand and puts his arm around her. He held her hand through the whole trip and told me about their trips across Canada. This is a guy who doesn’t remember some things on a regular basis.”
“Our volunteer base is mostly 55-plus, they’re retired and want to give back, and get outside more,” said Hu. “We are always looking for people to help run the programs. Sometimes the care homes say ‘we want this but we don’t really have the resources’. The program gives our volunteers meaning and purpose in an amazing kind of way.”
To learn more about Cycling Without Age or becoming a volunteer 'pilot', visit cyclingwithoutage.ca.