It’s not an ordinary bike. It’s a special wheelchair bike for people with disabilities who can’t steer or peddle on their own.
On Monday, it was stolen.
The bike is owned by Camp Able, a beach-based summer camp for disabled kids and adults at Silver Strand State Beach. The wheelchair bike was one of the camp’s most popular attractions, says Jenelle Nettles, who’s been helping run the camp for 25 years.
Jenelle says they had just taken the bike out of the storage facility at the Crown Cove Aquatics Center to take inventory and get all the equipment ready for campers. The staffers were moving equipment from one part of the beach to another, and when she turned around, the bike was gone.
“My stomach dropped. I just wanted to throw up,” she said. “I knew this wasn’t something that we could easily replace.”
No one saw who took it. Jenelle alerted the guards and Silver Strand Beach Rangers, but no one could find the bike.
“It happened quick,” she says.
Jenelle says the bike, which was donated by City of Coronado in the 2016 Coronado Community Grant, is worth more than $6,500.
“It’s one of the campers’ favorite activities,” says Jenelle. “It’s popular because, while our camp is an aquatics camp, and we do a lot of sailing and canoeing and paddle boards, not all of our campers feel comfortable or safe in the water. So, the wheelchair bike is a great option for them.”
Jenelle says it’s something the campers can do that’s very different from what they get to do at home, whether they live in a household, at a hospital or a group home. Most people don’t have wheelchair bikes because they are so expensive.
While many of the campers who use the bike are nonverbal, they are able to express joy in their own ways.
“We can tell they are enjoying it by their visual expressions,” says Jenelle. “They will get excited, they will be alert and awake. Maybe they were asleep in their wheelchair, but when we put them on the bike and start riding them around, they wake up.”
And the campers who can talk, well, they’re always fighting for whose turn it is to ride it next.
“Everyone loves the bike,” she laughs.
It couldn’t have come at a worse time. Camp Able, which will see between 400-500 campers this summer, opens up on July 5th.
“We’re up to our eyeballs. It’s been a crazy two weeks,” says Jenelle.
She says Camp Able staffers have been busy fixing up all of their boats after a windy and rainy winter. In addition, the organization is still raising funds to cover costs for the camp. This is their 43rd summer, and the camp is still trying to rebound after COVID.
Before the pandemic, Camp Able hosted between 600-800 people with disabilities, from all over San Diego.
“After COVID, it was like starting from scratch again. We had to rebuild our volunteer base and our staff,” says Jenelle. “We are starting to get back some momentum, and see some of our old campers back.”
But there is a silver lining. After Jenelle shared information about the bike theft on social media, Charles Crehore from Coronado Happenings Facebook group reached out and said he would help her get some donations from community members.
So for, people have donated more than $2,800.
“I’m blown away,” says Jenelle. “I love this community so much. I can’t believe the generosity.”
But Jenelle has a message for the person who took the bike.
“I’m not sure they know what they have,” she says. “This bike is made for people with disabilities, for people that aren’t able to use their arms, their hands, their legs. This is the way that they can experience this. And you’ve taken this chance away from them. Could you please bring it back?”
She says the bike can be dropped off at the Coronado Police Station or the Coronado Fire Station. It can also be left at Crown Cove Aquatics Center.
In the meantime, community members who are interested in helping out can donate via Venmo at @campable, or on the Camp Able website. https://campableatcoronado.org/donate-now/.
Checks can also be sent by mail to:
Camp Able at Coronado
PO Box 180025
Coronado, CA 92178