Adaptive cycling program in Chattanooga empowers participants and volunteers alike

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Volunteer Jake Aragon, left, helps Rossville resident Libby Leonard, 11, as she bikes with her dad Charlie at the Tennessee Riverpark Northern Amnicola Marsh Site.

While serving in Malta during World War II, a senior officer told Bryan Knight to always try to be better than the younger people around him. He's still following the officer's advice, and at 94 he's the oldest of the cyclists gathered at the Tennessee Riverpark for the twice-monthly adaptive cycling event hosted by Sports, Arts and Recreation of Chattanooga (SPARC), Outdoor Chattanooga and the city of Chattanooga's Therapeutic Recreation Department, offering modified bikes or trikes to people of all abilities.

Knight has been a cyclist all his life, and he wasn't going to let his failing balance or a botched spinal surgery that caused him to lose feelings in his hips and legs change that. The self-described pawn shop junkie found a used trike with thousands of dollars in adaptions at a pawn shop and fixed it up himself. He comes to the adaptive cycling events because he likes riding with a group, but they offer a variety of other benefits to the 50 or so people who participate each time.

For those who aren't lucky enough to find a trike at a pawn shop, Outdoor Chattanooga provides a variety of bikes and trikes for attendees to use or try, and SPARC volunteers can adapt the cycles to each person's needs, says SPARC volunteer Debbie Hightower.

Cortney Manning says she initially reached out to SPARC to volunteer when she moved to Chattanooga from Sacramento, California, sixth months ago, but she's now a participant, as well.

"I wish I had something like this when I first became an amputee," says Manning, adding that it took her 12 years before becoming active again after losing a leg in a car accident in 2005. "It's empowering to see other people doing activities."

The group includes people of all ages, from young children to 94-year-old Knight, and all abilities, with roughly the same number of volunteers who cycle in the typical way as participants that need adaptive equipment for diverse reasons. That's intentional - SPARC, a local chapter of the national nonprofit organization Move United, was started in 1991 with the mission of providing people of all abilities with the opportunity to participate in recreational and competitive activities in an integrated setting.

The first few times a participant attends, they're partnered with a volunteer for the ride. After that, they can choose to ride alone if it's safe for them to do so.

Seeing so many people come together over a shared love of cycling, it's difficult to not be inspired to be involved in some way. Manning describes it as a healthy party that's good for the soul.

"I just show up - that's all that matters," she says. "You're needed somewhere; you're inspiring someone."

To find out more about SPARC, which also offers a range of other sports from water skiing to tennis, visit