The streets are empty and the storefronts have been quiet on International Drive as COVID-19 restrictions have kept tourists and conventions away.
But on one recent afternoon, the Orange County Convention Center was full of excitement.
The cavernous West Concourse became a training space for kids and young adults with disabilities.
It was all part of the “iCan!” bike camp put together by the Down Syndrome Foundation of Florida.
Founder, Camilla Gardiner has been organizing the annual camp for nine years.
“We basically had the whole place to ourselves,” Gardiner laughed during a recent interview.
Home video shows groups of kids on special training bikes smiling as they make their way around the empty convention space.
“In the beginning, our riders are a little apprehensive and parents don’t know what to expect but as the week progresses the excitement is hard to explain,” Gardiner said.
Gardiner helped establish the foundation in 2010 as a way to help families with the cost of things like therapy, tutoring, sports, camps, and other experienced-based activities. She says her son Andrew was able to benefit from these activities but they could be costly.
“We wanted to be able to help families with those things that we felt helped our children,” Gardiner said.
According to Gardiner, the foundation has awarded over 9-hundred thousand dollars in scholarships since 2010.
“Whatever we raise we’re able to pass that right back along to our families and get them out into the community,” she said.
Gardiner says the bike camp is her favorite event of the year because she’s able to get to know the families and be part of their progress.
Every year 40 riders over the age of ten are eligible for the week-long camp.
This year, Debra Burns and her son Brian were among those families.
Brian is on the autism spectrum. The family has spent six years trying to teach him to ride, and now he finally can. In fact, at a recent practice session, it was hard to get him off the bike.
“He’s having fun. He’s having the time of his life,” Burns said as Brian circled a parking lot near their home.
Burns says the camp has changed their lives and she wanted other families to know it’s an option.
“It was such a wonderful experience from the beginning to the end,” Burns said. “A lot of laughing and encouragement, everyone was very happy.”
Burns nominated Gardiner for the News 6 Getting Results Award. “She’s a wonderful person,” Burns said. “She’s involved 100 percent and that’s what makes her great.”
Burns says her son has challenged himself in other ways since graduating from the camp. He learned to ride his scooter after having it for three years.
Gardiner says that’s the point.
“Bike camp is about taking the impossible and showing that it is possible,” Gardiner said. “We give families hope and we raise their expectations. The riders leave here saying what else can I do?”
ICan! bike camp happens every summer and is scheduled around space availability at the Orange County Convention Center.
For more information contact the Down Syndrome Foundation Of Florida.