After years of being towed behind his father’s bicycle in a trailer bike, 9- year-old Troy Haverstrom’s face lit up as he rode his new tricycle all by himself around East Campus.
The tricycle is the brainchild of a group of junior engineering majors who spent the past year designing and building it for their engineering design classes.
Two weeks ago, the finished tricycle was presented to Troy and his family outside the Health and Human Services building. His family and friends gathered around to watch Troy speed down the East Campus hills.
“All of it was my favorite,” Troy said. “[I liked] going downhill because it’s fun.”
Last fall, the sophomore engineering class received information on a special needs client chosen by kinesiology professor Thomas Moran. The group spent the first semester designing and the second semester building a human-powered vehicle that fit the needs of the client.
Junior engineering major David Dwyier was chosen out of his group members to build the bike.
He spent the summer in Harrisonburg putting the tricycle together for Troy, who has spastic hemiplegic cerebral palsy, a condition that leaves him with limited mobility on the left side of his body.
Due to Troy’s limited mobility on his left side, both the 15-speed tricycle’s brake and gear shifting system can be controlled on the right handlebar.
“He doesn’t have any knowledge of what a bicycle should be like so we can teach him all these new different things,” Dwyier said. “It’ll help him learn how to ride a bicycle a lot faster.”
Troy’s father, Rich Haverstrom, was there to document the moment. Rich explained that their family often goes on camping trips to places that have bike trails. Now, the new tricycle allows Troy to enjoy the bike rides independently.
“This will give him freedom to go around the campgrounds by himself, when we’re on the trails he can ride the bicycles by himself instead of always being pulled behind my bike,” Rich said.
When asked what he was most excited about, Troy replied “beating my brother in racing.”
Last year, Rich said he and his son visited the JMU campus to regularly work with the students to develop and improve the design. He also said he was especially impressed with the tricycle’s built-in telescopic frame, which is able to expand and collapse as Troy grows taller.
According to Dwyier, the frame and nearly all other parts of the tricycle were handbuilt by the students themselves, since industrially produced parts would have had to be altered to fit the design.
“I can’t even describe the feeling I have right now being able to see this — here’s something I built and was able to give to someone who’s not able to ride a bicycle by himself,” Dwyier said. “It gives him the ability. Although it’s not necessarily a bicycle, it still has the same feel, kind of look — it’s a great feeling.”
Dwyier’s professor, Robert Nagel, said students were able to receive helpful feedback from Troy himself.
“He started yelling out comments to the other students and at one point he’s like, ‘Who comes up with these designs? They’re crazy,’” Nagel said. “I felt bad for the team who got yelled at, but it was just a really great learning experience for everyone because they were there actively getting feedback.”
Nagel also thinks this program helps teach students more than just mechanical skills. According to Nagel, it also teaches them how to work with clients so they can better understand and build to their needs.
Troy’s mentor, Jeff Schurott, initially rode alongside him, but eventually Troy was riding by himself. Schurott, a JMU graduate student in the physical and health education teacher education program, has been working with Troy since last fall to improve his gross motor skills.
“He’s really, really capable to do a lot of things on his own, so it’s been cool to see him grow in a lot of different ways,” Schurott said. “Just the confidence that he’s kind of developed over the past year has been awesome.”
But for Moran, watching Troy ride the tricycle had a more personal impact. Moran, who also has cerebral palsy, said he wasn’t able to find a bike compatible with his body until five years ago, when he approached engineering professors with a request.
“I had been looking many years previous a bike for myself,” Moran said. “I contacted numerous bike companies and they said ‘Yeah, if you have $10,000, we’ll build you a bike,’ but I don’t have that kind of money.”
What resulted, Moran said, was an elliptical-type vehicle built by students which he still uses both recreationally and competitively in various 5K races with Ricky Forgey, another former client and JMU student.
Moran hopes someday soon that Troy will join Ricky and him in competing in races.
“It’s a great opportunity and other professionals to see it as well and just realize, ‘You know what? We can enjoy these races and fundraisers just like anybody else; we’re just doing it on wheels, not on feet.”
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