COUNCIL BLUFFS –– Grace Day has spent days on the sidelines, watching others maneuver jungle gyms or swings or bicycles. That pain is now alleviated, replaced with a sense of normalcy.
The 5-year-old, born without arms, dreamed of riding a bicycle. Thanks to the work of a dedicated few, now she can.
“This is amazing,” Patricia Day, Grace’s mother, said outside Quaker Steak & Lube, where volunteers presented the family with a custom-made three-wheeled bike controlled by turns of the body.
“Watching her on the bike is just amazing,” she said.
The youngster turned 5 in late February, and, in the run-up to her birthday, aunts and uncles called to ask what she wanted. Grace’s answer each time was, “I want a bike.”
Patricia and husband Greg knew making the wish come true would be difficult, especially given their daughter’s legendary determination. Grace has to try everything once, giving a go to figure out whether or not she’s able.
The youngster pushed and pushed for a bicycle, batting down arguments about her inability to ride a traditional model. Greg and Patricia eventually took her to Toys “R” Us, where they pulled down a bicycle for her to try. The youngster got on but didn’t get far, falling to the ground.
“Heartbreaking,” Patricia said, remembering the scene. “To see that as a mom ...”
They didn’t know at the time, but family members were working to find a bike that would work.
Troy Carman, Patricia’s brother-in-law, works at Griffin Pipe in Council Bluffs with Frank Hansen, a longtime volunteer with the Make-A-Wish foundation. Hansen contacted Steve Batten, owner of True Wheel Bicycle on West Broadway, who began a search for a machine that could accommodate Grace.
Batten came through, as he has in past. The bicycle shop owner helps anyone with special needs he can find their way onto a bike. It’s the reason he’s in the industry.
“That’s my job,” Batten said. “My job is to get people on a human-powered vehicle. Everyone should be able to enjoy riding a bike.”
Batten found the bike – a Trailmate tricycle model – so Hansen approached the Days, who were cautious at first.
“‘There are others out there more in need,’” Hansen recalled Greg saying.
So Hansen and a slew of others raised money on their own, dead set on making Grace happy. That work led to Quaker Steak.
Before her bike arrived, Grace held court inside the restaurant, at the head of a long rectangular table with a dozen family members and friends, elevated above the others in a bar chair. She took occasional bites of her chicken tenders but mostly sat with a grin, wondering when the bicycle would arrive.
But when the moment came she shied away. Outside a throng of onlookers, friends, family and media, watched as Grace saw the bike for the first time. Instead of running toward it she stood still, until Dad picked her up for a ride to the bike.
Once on, though, Grace’s frown morphed into a smile, as she walked the bicycle up and down the sidewalk, family cheering her on.
“This is amazing,” Patricia said for not the first or last time, tears in her eyes.
The Days explained that Grace has adapted well to not having arms. She eats, writes and paints with her feet. She can pick coins up off the ground and even peel stickers – think “Great job!” with a gold star – off the pad.
Every time Mom and Dad offer an accommodation Grace sends them away, choosing to figure out how to do it on her own. They’re currently working on tying shoes, with the initial tie conquered and bunny ears hopefully not far behind.
But there are things she struggles with or can’t do.
Until now Grace’s watched as classmates run around the playground, swinging or climbing on the jungle gym. She’s watched as family members and friends ride bikes, a joy no child should go without. The worst is when cousin Haeley, who Grace calls “sister,” is able to ride but without her best friend.
“Looking at her face saddens me,” Patricia said of seeing her daughter stand and watch. “She just wants to be like the other kids. There are things she can’t do, sometimes she’s left out.
“We want this (bicycle) so much for her.”
Making life as normal as possible for Grace is the whole family’s mission. Carman said when he found out his niece’s birthday request he was determined to make it happen.
Watching the youngster make her way on the bike outside the restaurant, laughing, bumping into the occasional person, brought him joy.
“I hope this is just the beginning for Grace of letting nothing stop her,” Carman said.
There’s a bicycle trail system near the Day homestead in Malvern, one that’s going to have a new rider very soon.
The Days admitted their time indoors will be limited come summer, thanks to a daughter – their youngest, along with Grace’s siblings Nathen, 21, Meghan, 19, Daniel, 11 and Jeremiah, 9 – with increased mobility.
When the commotion died down outside Quaker Steak, with Grace happily gliding along in the bicycle, Greg remembered that day at Toys “R” Us.
“That was a hard moment,” he said, a brief quiver in his voice.
Then the proud father turned his head, his eyes wide, his face beaming.
“This is a lot better moment.”