The Blessing Bike: Helping the Elderly and Infirm, 3 Wheels at a Time

The Blessing Bike helps the aged and disabled get outside and live again.

Rosemary Sorce knows a thing or two about the vagaries of getting older. She's lost her husband, a good portion of her eyesight and much of her hearing.

And at age 92, her lust for life was also on the wane. "This time last year she was waiting to die," said her daughter, Jill Houser, who took an early retirement last year to become her mother's full-time caregiver. "She is now living to live," Houser said.

Amazing what three wheels can do.

Make that three wheels and a padded seat.

The secret to Rosemary's new happiness is a bicycle, carefully constructed by her son-in-law, which allows her sit tall on a bench while her daughter sits behind her, pedaling away.

"I realized we were spending a lot of time inside, or pushing her in a wheelchair," Houser said. She considered buying a modified bike for special needs people, but the cost was too high. She and her husband found an old cargo bicycle on Craigslist and he set about redesigning it for Rosemary.

"We gave it to her for her 92nd birthday and we've been riding ever since," Houser said. 

Others are riding, too. As news of Rosemary's bike spread, people began asking where they could find one. Houser and her family established The Blessing Bike, a nonprofit run by the Idaho couple and a handful of volunteers, who customize bicycles for the elderly and the disabled.

They've made 13 so far and have more in the pipeline, she said. "We're making one bike at a time in our garage and helping as many people as we can," Houser said.

Rosemary is enchanted by her new mode of transportation.

"I love it," she said, "I really do. You see so much. All the trees are in bloom right now and it's just gorgeous," said the spry, white-haired woman. "In a car, you don't even notice that stuff.

"People stop and wave and talk to you. It's lovely. You don't feel real, real old," she said with a smile, "though you know you are. But you don't feel that way."

And that feeling, Rosemary said, is all she really needs.

The three-wheeled bicycle takes them everywhere. "We rarely get in the car for errands anymore," Houser said. "We went to get flowers at the market. We went to pick up her prescriptions. We got a Coney hot dog from a drive-thru. We go to the market. We go everywhere."

Rosemary laughs. "As long as she keeps pumping, I'll keep sitting," she said. 

In the beginning, Houser had a hard time pumping. "When I first started to peddle her, I though, 'Oh, my God. Am I even going to be able to make it two blocks?' But now, and I'm not a gym rat, but now we can go miles and miles and miles. Just like anything else, I think it takes some getting used to."

Both brave almost all the elements to get outside and ride. "We've ridden in the snow. The only thing that's kind of tough is the rain," said Houser. "But we can ride in everything else."

And ride they do. "It's done wonders for me," said Houser. "So it's been good for both us."

But it's been doubly good for Rosemary.

"You feel you're not housebound," she said. "You're out with other people, visiting them." People driving by wave. "I've been waving like a clown, but it's fun. It's a purpose. And that's what you need when you're old.

"You need a purpose."