New Haven man helps launch adaptive trike program at Rikert
RIPTON — Larry Buck is a man on a mission. Not much can slow him down. Nearly every day of the year, you’ll find the New Haven resident pedaling around Addison County on his road trike doing everything the rest of us do in cars.
Weather is no object. In the rain, in the snow, and through all six Vermont seasons, Buck is out there, muscling through whatever the road conditions splatter at him.
This would be a sign of true grit and determination for anyone, but Buck does it because he’s wired to move, and because he understands what it means to be unable to. In 2009, at age 53, he suffered a stroke that impaired the use of his left leg and rendered his left arm non-responsive.
His illness began with a serious bout with swine flu H1N1, which revealed he had hairy cell leukemia that ultimately wiped out all his white blood cells and stopped circulation to the right side of his brain. After months in a drug-induced coma, he woke unable to control the left side of his body.
An avid hockey player, skier, biker, swimmer, and a partner in the well-established Bristol design-build firm Conner & Buck, this was a major hit to his sense of self.
“I didn’t know how to be someone who couldn’t move,” said Buck in a recent interview. “I had to force my body to work again. Your brain doesn’t know you have a left side unless you move it.”
Thanks to a phenomenon called neuroplasticity, the brain can learn to heal itself and recover from stroke damage. But the only way it can do this is through sustained, conscious effort to rewire the trillions of neural pathways that retrieve and store information. Repetition, also called “massed practice,” helps with this rewiring. For Buck, this meant pedaling a bike.
“The first thing I did when I got out of the hospital was go to the bike shop and get a trike,” he recalled. One year and a whole mess of back roads later, the trike was busted. “I literally rode it into the ground.”
Buck knew it was time for him to get adaptable and durable on- and off-road, human-powered transportation that would take him where he needed to go, which was always forward.
Not long after, during one of many Tour de Farms rides, Buck met Anja Wrede of RAD Innovations, based in Cornwall. After an assessment of his specific needs, Wrede set him up with an electrically assisted recumbent tricycle —a Kettwiesel model from Hase Bikes USA, which some describe as “the Swiss Army Knife of recumbent bikes.” In German, “hase” means “hare.” Incredibly swift animals, hares can run as fast as 40 mph, and that sounded pretty good to Buck. Boasting safety, stability, easy handling and comfort, the trike became his go-to three-season roadster.
That still left the challenge of the winter months, when outdoor mobility is especially difficult for those who rely on wheels to get around — and self-propelled wheels at that. Jane Buck, Larry’s wife of 33 years, could see the emotional and physical toll inactivity and isolation were taking during those down months.
“Larry is not a hibernator,” she laughs. “Sitting still is not his strong suit. He’s got to get out there.”
THE GEAR BOX of the adaptive trike is set up to provide maximum power for the least amount of effort with the pedal stroke electrically assisted and powered by batteries behind the seat. Buck’s left leg, shown strapped onto the pedal, and the left side of his body were left paralyzed by a stroke almost nine years ago.
Independent photo/Angelo Lynn
Enter the advent of fat tires.
These large-volume, low-pressure tires act as shock absorbers, reducing stress on the rider’s hands and lower back. For those with disabilities facing a long northern winter, a fat-tire trike can seem like a new lease on life.
Having stepped down from his full-time role at Conner & Buck, Larry Buck made it his mission to give others with limited physical abilities the opportunity to benefit from the freedom and empowerment of year-round exercise. He decided electrically assisted fat-tire trikes and great trail networks were the magic recipe, so he started brainstorming with his long-time friend Mike Hussey, director of the Rikert Nordic Center in Ripton. Together, they hatched a vision for an adaptive fat-tire trike and bike program, supported by the “inclusive mobility” expertise of Wrede and RAD Innovations Principal David Black.
But big visions come with big budgets: Fully retrofitted adaptive trikes can run upwards of $10,000. Unfazed, Buck set out to raise it. Six years later, the first Adaptive Trike Rikert, or ATR, recumbent tricycle is up and pedaling and will be making tracks on the freshly groomed trails at Rikert this winter.
Of course, this isn’t the first adaptive winter sports program in Vermont. There are a whole host of excellent resources out there (Vermont Adaptive and the Kelly Brush Foundation among them), but most are geared toward competition.
Buck wanted to create a program that is open and accessible to anyone with any disability at every skill level. A big part of that accessibility means having multiple trikes available and ready to be customized to the unique needs of mobility challenged individuals. To that end, the second phase of the ATR program will focus on raising $20,000 for a hand-pedal bike to accommodate people with spinal injuries.
“We’re trying to take small steps that we can achieve,” says Buck, after taking a few laps around the Field Loop at Rikert last week. “And those small steps can build into a program that will be recognized.
“It’s a long road,” he adds. “It takes patience. That’s the hardest part.”
When asked what advice he has for people curious about adaptive sports, Buck smiles:
“Put a fat tire on there and ride! Hell, I’ll help you!”
And he will: Larry Buck can change a bike tire with one hand a lot faster than most can do it with two. Kind of makes you want to leave the car keys on the hook and head straight for the trails.
Adaptive Trike Rikert will host a party to celebrate the formal launch of its ATR program next Thursday, Dec. 13, at American Flatbread in Middlebury, from 5:30 p.m. on. Guests will be invited to see how the new recumbent trikes work, learn about adaptive sports from RAD experts David Black and Anja Wrede, and enjoy some food and drink with the team. All proceeds raised at the event will go directly toward the next fat-tire trike build. Future funds will be used to strengthen the program and create partnerships with other winter sports centers around Vermont.
To learn more about Adaptive Trike Rikert, visit the program’s GoFundMe page: gofundme.com/adaptive-trike-rikert.