Peoria Cyclist Pays Tribute to Kids With Autism

Jun 14, 2017


Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

A Peoria man biking across the US coasted into his hometown Wed., as he completes his 3,400 journey.

Rick Diefenderfer started his charity ride from Santa Monica to New York on May 21 for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. He already met his goal of raising $10,000 for Easterseals Central Illinois, but he still has about 1,200 miles of pedaling until he reaches the finish line.


Diefenderfer says thinking about the kids has motivated him to push through the toughest stretches of his ride in the saddle.


Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

 “You get a lot of time to think, and a lot of time to feel the pain, and the hills, and the heat,” Diefenderfer said. “But the amount of stress and physical ailment I have dwarfs in comparison to what the children do every day.”


Three kids rode alongside him on the Water St. bike path to the Gateway Building. They were recent “graduates” of an Easterseals program that helps kids with disabilities learn how to ride a bike independently.

Ray Baker has enrolled his kids in the "iCan Bike" camp for three summers. Baker, a psychologist, says it’s not a stretch to consider biking a form of therapy.


“I don’t know about the research to show that, but it’s therapeutic for the kids with motor difficulties, because it requires them to integrate all those functions and complex brain activation,” Baker said.  


Often, people with certain neurological disorders like Autism have difficulty making a mind-body connection.


A national survey from 2015 suggests that about one in 45 children are diagnosed with Autism.


Diefenderfer is biking to raise funds and awareness for those kids who, he says, don’t get enough attention.