What’s your favorite way to exercise?
For many New Yorkers, it’s bicycling. Now imagine never being able to cycle again because of failing vision. That’s a reality Vern Vergara of Manhattan no longer endures, thanks to In Tandem, which provides tandem bicycling opportunities to people with disabilities.
Riding in Central Park with the wind in her hair on a bicycle built for two, Vergara feels exhilarated. “I used to bike a lot when I had 20/20 vision, and only dreamed of doing so again after my sight became impaired,” she tells me.
Vergara’s wish has come true. She and other visually limited riders count on their buddy “captains,” who pedal and steer in the front seat while “stokers” such as Vergara pedal in back.
“I pedal with confidence as my fully sighted captain up front describes the scenery and goings-on around us,” says Vergara, a fundraising and marketing specialist for Baruch College’s Computer Center for Visually Impaired People.
“We started in 2014 with about 15 stokers and captains,” says Stanley Zucker, In Tandem’s executive director. “By year’s end, we had 50 or more of each.” The group rides Saturday mornings and Thursday evenings in Central Park, and wants to expand into the other boroughs.
Mark Carhart, In Tandem’s co-founder, says the group’s social aspect is a vital factor for both captains and stokers. “You’re really close to each other,” Carhart told NY1, “with an opportunity to connect with another New Yorker in a way that you often don’t get to do.”
That connection is enhanced when the group takes part in special activities, such as its Donut Ride through four boroughs in October. Doughnut shops along the route agree to stay open all night to accommodate the riders.
But what makes the group special is how it makes a difference in people’s lives. “We are always looking for experienced cyclists to be captains,” says Zucker. If you’re interested, gather more information at intandembike.org.
“My experience with In Tandem has enriched my body, mind and spirit,” says Vergara. “I get a great workout, meet wonderful people and leave with quite a high. I feel free from the bondage of visual impairment. Liberated!”
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.