The beauty of cycling as a sport is its versatility. Some of us use it as a form of transport, way of keeping fit, a hobby, or even an excuse to get a break from the family! But for some, such as this incredible 10 year old boy, it’s a way of just give something back to those in need.
also known as, Ride James Ride. A proud Frog Bike rider and truly inspiring individual!
James is an amazing young boy with autism who has embraced his differences with pride and proactively made an impact on his local community by raising funds and awareness for autism. With his charisma and endearing personality, James has gone more than the extra mile and proven what can be achieved by anyone if they just put their heart to it! He has taken his passion for cycling beyond what even his parents imagined and given back to those around him by proving that being different is a gift, so embrace, relish it and flaunt it with pride! As P.T. Barnum once famously said, ‘no one ever made a difference by being like everyone else’.
Having already accomplished an amazing 500km ride from Whitby to Ottawa, James is now preparing for a 1000km bike ride from Whitby in Ontario, Canada to Coney Island in New York City, USA with the hope of raising $20,000. With just one month to go, James and his family have been endlessly preparing for this epic adventure. So, how does someone so young chase dreams so huge? That is exactly what we wanted to find out as we caught up with him and his incredibly supportive parents!
Your big day is not far now, are you excited?
“I’m excited, but I’m nervous too! We really have three different goals on our ride, and they are all pretty big:
- To ride 1,000 km to Coney Island
- To Raise $10,000 for Grandview Kids and $10,000 for EJ Autism
- To share a message about the great things that kids with Autism can do.
I really hope we meet our goals and don’t let down all the people counting on us.”
How do you hope to make a difference for children with Autism?
“The biggest goal is to make a change by showing them that they shouldn’t give up. It’s really hard sometimes - whether you’re riding a bike and your legs get tired or you’re sitting in class and not understanding what the teacher is talking about, but if you keep on trying and you don’t give up, eventually you’ll find an ice cream shop and then everything is better.”
How will the funds you raise help Grandview Kids and EJ Autism?
“Grandview Kids was built in the 1980’s - before I was even born - to help out about 400 disabled children by giving them therapies and classes to help them out. But our town has gotten bigger, and now they are helping thousands of kids in that same building. I’m on a waitlist of ANOTHER 3000 kids who can’t be helped unless a new therapy centre is built. Whatever money we raise on this trip will help Grandview toward building a new Children's’ Treatment Centre.
EJ Autism is a charity in New York City that is working to build a new respite centre for families who have kids with Autism. In a busy place like New York, it can be really hard for families to find a place that will give them a break. EJ is working to change that.”
We have been really inspired by your story James, as you say in your own words, you’re a little guy chasing the dreams of dreamers twice their size. What inspires you?
James’ parents: “On TVO, a program called ‘Giver’ inspired James to think big - the playgrounds built by kids in communities across Canada gave him a goal and an idea.” Sometime later, “Our family hosted a girl from Korea who was cycling across Canada alone. When she stayed for a night at our house, she told James about cycling and how fun her tour was, and that made him want to try it too, so when he saw the Giver Playground in Ottawa was the biggest in Canada, he decided to bike there for his first tour.”
You seem to make a day of every cycling adventure you take, such as the 1000km trek which is full of iconic landmarks and pit stops – does this help make your goals more attainable and enjoyable?
“Can I share a secret? I like ice cream stops the most. My Dad talks a lot about the stuff we are riding past, but I mostly like the ice cream and the playgrounds we stop at for a rest. On our last trip, we stopped at a library one time, and I just flopped in a comfy chair and read a book for half an hour.”
Cycling 1000km is an ambitious dream, how have you been preparing and training for this adventure?
“Most weekends we get up really early and go for a bike ride. These rides are always a little longer than the weekend before. Now we’re up to about 90 km rides and need to start working on riding faster and not getting tired too early. Our goal is to be home from our ride by about 3:00 in the afternoon. Last week we didn’t get home until 5:30.”
We have noticed you have been taking lots of 50k trips, is this in preparation for the big day?
“Yup! We’re happy you noticed. We got a GPS tracker and our early tests with it look pretty good! Soon we’ll start putting up our rides on www.ridejamesride.com so you can follow along live as we go!”
So, how long have you been cycling?
“I started riding a bike when I was in Kindergarten, so about 4 years ago.”
What initially got you into cycling?
“Well, my Dad took me to the park, and put my bike at the bottom of the big hill, and then he let go. I rolled down and fell. We kept doing it going higher and higher until I was able to ride all the way down the really big hill. After that me and Mom rode along the Rail Trail in Algonquin Provincial park where we could find bears and moose, and Dad took me along on a 50 km ride on the Trans-Canada trail one time with his work friends. Since we were able to do those fun rides, I knew I could do a really long ride.”
You are also proactively promoting cycling within your local region, with presentation and public talks, how did this come about? Can you tell us more about what you endorse?
“My Dad does a lot of talking, so he often goes out to share our story and talk about our bike ride in town. I like it when I get to go on the Radio and talk with the DJ about stuff. Before our ride last year, Dad asked the DJ to mention us, so we could get a boost with our fundraising, and he did! From that we got a lot of people who wanted to help us, and now we’ve done talks with local cyclists, with the Rotary Clubs and with schools all over town.”
The community has really reached out to support you with this, allowing you to camp in their garden and help in case of emergency, it is really touching to see the community spirit is still alive – is there any one person who has gone above and beyond your expectations?
“Backyard camping is a lot of fun. I really like making new friends and seeing their houses and playing with them. Last year I learned Chinese drumming, played video games, and watched movies with kids along the way. We camped out on the Rideau Canal last year too, I wished I had a fishing rod that night. The camps were all fun, but drumming was really cool.
This year we are staying at two different Museums - at one we are camping next to where they restore antique boats, and another has let us sleep inside it all night!!”
A two-week adventure will be physically exhausting, how do you plan to prepare and recoup after?
“We mostly prepare by going on practice rides on the weekends. Dad makes sure I eat well and get rested, but mostly it’s the weekend rides we do. After the rides, I am usually pretty hyper and want to go play, so rest isn’t a big deal for me. Dad gets pretty sleepy though.”
What do your friends think about what you do?
“The kids at my school think it's pretty cool. Sometimes when we are out shopping or something people know about my ride and we talk about it. Today when my Mom got the mail, someone drove up and gave her money for the ride. It’s cool when stuff like that happens.”
James’ parents: “Children with Autism often have challenges with social skills. James only has 1 friend he talks to, and he avoids most other kids. For him, the social aspect is both the most craved-for and most feared part of all this. He often struggles to get through a media interview.”
You are very active on social media and often talk about your daily bike rides on Twitter, have you made plenty of new friends?
“Sometimes people recognize us on the Waterfront trail and ride along. A couple weeks ago we were riding home from Oshawa, and a lady on a race bike started cheering for me and chanting “Ride James Ride!!” she rode past us, then came back, and rode with us before taking off again. It was pretty fun!”
Last year, you cycled a 500km ride from Whitby to Ottawa – how was that?
“It was really fun. We took a week and cycled about 75 km per day. At the finish there were TV and news people there, the police and fire department, and a whole lot of people from Parliament hill! Justin Trudeau (our Prime Minister) even congratulated me on that ride!”
You have seen some stunning landscapes, which has been your favourite?
“Dad and I both really liked riding through the Rideau Lakes district along the Cataraqui Trail. In the winter, it’s a snowmobile trail, but all summer it’s empty. We rode for 100 km through the woods and only saw a few people. Along the trail we crossed old rail trestles, rode through rock cuts, and saw some beautiful lakes and forests.”
Are there any places you are looking forward to seeing on this trip?
“Well, it’s hard to guess what the best part of this year’s trip will be but camping out at the Canal Boat Museum in Chittenango will be fun, and so will visiting the Children’s Museum in Utica. One town we are going through is all about Dorothy in the Land of Oz, and another place we are staying in a scout camp - with all the scouts. We even get to join their campfire and have smores and hotdogs. On our ride we’ll cross the border to the United States at Niagara Falls, and riding our bikes over the Rainbow Bridge will be pretty amazing. In New York City, we’ll be given a special tour of the USS Intrepid and the Space Shuttle there. When we reach Coney Island, we can’t wait to ride the WonderWheel, the roller coasters, and to eat more hotdogs.”
What do you think of your Frog gear?
“I LOVE the Jersey - Dad tries to get pictures of me in my Grandview T-shirt and my EJ Autism shirt, but I always want to wear the FROG one, it’s really cool. Also, my bike is way better than the one I had last year. I like having the clicky gears instead of the twisty ones. Dad likes the racktime rack since its really strong - we haven’t loaded it yet, but last week when we rode from Clarkson GO station home to Whitby (90 km), we had my Arkel panniers with clothes and a sleeping bag in them, and the bags didn’t move around or hit my ankles or anything.”
Do you have a hero who inspires you?
“Luke Skywalker. He’s the best.”
What tips would you give to any child or even their parents who are just starting out cycling?
“Just to go out and ride. You never know where you might end up!”
You often state you would rather cycle slowly and at a comfortable pace, ‘we go slow, but far’, how has this helped you?
“Yeah, it’s “We don’t go fast, we go far…” I said that on the radio once and now my Dad says it all the time. We aren’t bike racers, if we tried to be racers, we would get tired too fast and we wouldn’t make it how far we have to go. On our ride this summer, we have to ride 90 km every day for two weeks straight, so we have to get strong and save up energy.
Your parents are amazingly supportive, with your father Chris accompanying you on your big ride and managing your online communications and website. So, this is a question for your parents actually; what drives you to support James on this journey?
James’ parents: “James hears ‘you can’t’ and ‘no’ an awful lot, and as his parents, the best tool we have to help him through his struggles with autism is love. Sometimes love looks like replacing something he broke in a fit, and sometimes it looks like tying his shoelaces when he just can’t get things working right. Sometimes it looks like a big hug on a bad day - and sometimes love looks like going for a really long bike ride, and saying ‘I think you can’, and ‘Yes’.
Seeing the growth James went through over the duration of our trip last year was incredible. Cycling is therapeutic - and the repetitive motion of pumping the pedals is perfect for a child with autism. Over the length of our journey, James grew stronger and faster, but he also grew in confidence, his ability to make decisions, and his ability to control himself. It was a truly transforming week for James. I hope we can find that success again this year.”
Cycling 1000km is tough going, how do you keep yourself motivated on the trail?
“When I start getting tired, we sing a song like "little red wagon", or we play Star Wars, or find an ice cream shop. I like to stop at a lot of playgrounds too, so we visit them a lot. Last year, some people cut out cardboard puzzle pieces and taped granola bars on the back of them for us, and then set them out on the trail. It was great when we found them!”
When cycling such a long distance, you must have to prepare. How do you make sure you have everything you need?
“We don’t have room to pack much stuff, so I bring a pair of pyjamas, my sleeping bag and sleeping pad, and two changes of clothes - one for hot and one for cool weather. We also carry packable rain jackets, just in case. Dad carries the tent and all the camping gear on his bike. We pack just enough food for one day in our handlebar bags - usually it’s mostly granola bars and candy, because we stop at restaurants for lunch. The people who host us often give us breakfast and dinner, but sometimes we have to stop for that too.”
When on the road, do you have a support vehicle or SAG Wagon?
“Nope. We do our ride unsupported - but we do ask that our host families have a phone nearby in case we need some help. Last year Dad’s budget-minded panniers tore completely apart on the trail, and we managed to get ourselves to the next bike shop using a bungee cord we found on the roadside to hold our gear together. We think that resourcefulness and being clever is what cycle-touring is about. That disaster was what introduced us to the value of quality equipment - and eventually led to us getting a FROG bike and our new Arkel bags. We believe that the new kit will be all we need to avoid disaster this year.”
What bike is James riding?
James’ parents: “James is riding a Green Frog 69 with some extra touring gear added on. He has the Racktime Racks from FROG, and the fenders and aggressive tread tires that came with it since we will be on trails a lot. We also added on head and tail lights, a beefy frame stand, handlebar mount mirror, bar ends, and a set of Arkel ORCA waterproof pannier bags. James wears his FROG reflective vest whenever we are riding in traffic.”
How far do you go each day?
“This year our average day will be 90 km, but we have a couple long days that are over 100 km, and some short days that are only 60. We’re a little worried that we have more hills to climb this year, but the trails look like they are in better shape than some of the snowmobile and ATV trails we rode on last time.”
I’m sure you will have many locals following you, could you tell us more about this year’s ride?
“Grandview is holding a send-off party on August 17th, and then we leave the Whitby pier early in the morning on August 18th. If everything goes right, we’ll roll into Coney Island on Sept. 1. We hope to be on the road by 7.30am each morning, and at our destination by 4:00 each afternoon.”
What route will you be taking?
“We will leave our home in Whitby Ontario, Canada and follow Lake Ontario's shoreline along the Waterfront Trail as far as St. Catherines. There we will cut southeast to Niagara Falls to cross the border into New York State. In New York, we will follow the Erie Canal Towpath across the heart of the state to Albany New York. Once we reach Albany, we will head south and follow the Hudson Valley to New York City. Although most of our route is on Trails and Paths, we are aware that there will be many miles on-road as well.”
Can people tag along if they want to accompany you on your ride?
“Yes! We invite anyone who wants to come ride with us for as long as they’d like. We already know that some of our local cycling advocates from the Durham Region Cycling Coalition, and CycleTO want to come ride with us. GoBikeBuffalo and the Niagara Cycling Club are also talking about meeting us on the trail, in New York City, TransAlt has offered to meet us as well. We hope that other folks will join us as we pass through their towns and counties. You’ll always know where we are by checking our GPS tracking on our website.”
This year was all about ‘twice the challenge’, so what next?
“We aren’t really sure what we’re going to do next summer, but it would be nice to be able to do a ride with more friends along - maybe something like a parents and kids tour or something. Maybe you can ask folks to send us ideas on twitter!”
Having rubbed shoulders with PM Trudeau and local press, it would be fair to say James has already become a local celebrity. His passion, energy and drive are captivating, proving that if anyone can do it he can!
There are many ways you can support James achieve his dreams, whether that’s by joining him on one of his rides, offering some supportive words or just donating. You can find out more on his website, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.