Pedaling toward success
Students learn health through cycling at Woodhull
Edward Fishkin and his colleagues at Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center in New York City have won a medal with their pedals.
They have helped hundreds of mostly lower-income, minority students in Brooklyn School District 14 learn to ride bicycles and gain self-confidence, discipline and health benefits. They also have widened the students’ worlds through the Kids Ride Club, run partly by 371-bed Woodhull and championed by Fishkin, a physician who serves as medical director when he’s not directing traffic.
He leads volunteers, including doctors and staff, along with others from the community, who guide 18 weekend rides from April through October. Each has between 15 and 100 participants who are 10 to 18 years old from a community where one-third of the children are overweight or obese.
Woodhull’s role includes donating two vans, driven by staff volunteers, that serve as “sag wagons,” picking up participants who tire out during their rides. Woodhull also purchased 20 bikes (out of a fleet of 40) for about $3,000. For these efforts, Woodhull has received the Spirit of Excellence Award for Community.
The 15-year-old program is run in partnership with Recycle-A-Bicycle, which offers bike repair and riding-safety training, and the New York Cycle Club, which provides many of the adult volunteers. Healthfirst and MetroPlus Health Plan contribute jerseys and shorts.
“Asthma is epidemic in the neighborhood,” Fishkin says. “We want to get the kids to recognize the healthy lifestyles component—we give them nutrition education. The kids know they have to ride safely.”
The youths cycle to locations such as Coney Island and Lincoln Center in Manhattan with adults from all walks of life. “They get exposed to people they wouldn’t ordinarily see and places they wouldn’t ordinarily go,” Fishkin says. “Doctors come, resident physicians, psychologists, creative art therapists, administrators. They enjoy it as much as the kids.”
In April, most of the new children can ride about eight miles; by October, it’s closer to 50. On the last ride of the year, the group cycles across the bridge to New Jersey.
“It can be pretty daunting for a youngster who has never been engaged in competitive sports to get involved, especially if they’re overweight,” Fishkin says. “They improve their self-image. ”
The program reaches children and youths who are often starved for attention, says Calvin Thomas, a physician who is vice chairman of OB/GYN and president of the medical and dental staff.
“We’ve seen turnaround in kids who were troubled, neglected, who did better in school because someone gave them attention,” he says. “We’ve continued to support (Fishkin) because of the tremendous return on this effort. It’s goodwill toward the community. It’s a great idea for everybody to exercise, and to show some caring for others.”
When they start, the children can ride about eight miles—by the end, it’s closer to 50.