When Erika Wolf was young, she loved riding her bike.
But when she was 11, she was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa — a rare genetic disorder that causes a person to lose their vision over time.
Wolf is now blind, but she hasn’t stopped cycling. This is her second year riding a tandem bike in “Ride to Unite,” an annual event that pairs champion cyclists racing in the Gateway Cup with riders who have disabilities. The goal, say organizers, is to help make cycling a more inclusive sport.
“This really gives me an opportunity to be amongst everyone else who rides and has the same interest that I do,” Wolf said.
Riders of all ages and ability levels whizzed around the five-mile closed course on Saturday, which followed the edges of Francis Park in south St. Louis.
St. Louis resident Megan Vitale and her nine-year-old daughter Sophia, who has cerebral palsy, were among the participants. This was the second year they took part in the event.
“I just like to be with my friends and family and have that ability to be on a bike,” said Sophia Vitale, riding a customized bike and wearing a purple cat-themed helmet.
Hugh Share, a volunteer for Cycle St. Louis — a coalition of local nonprofits and businesses that organizes the annual event — said cycling is “simply pure joy.”
“We believe the benefits and fun should be available to everybody, including people with and without disabilities,” Share said.
Cycle St. Louis consists of over a dozen local nonprofits dedicated to creating cycling opportunities for people with disabilities, including the Delta Gamma Center for Children with Visual Impairments.
Allison LaMont, program director at the Delta Gamma Center, said the experience helps visually impaired children gain confidence and feel more independent.
“Kids with visual impairments are often excluded from events that their sighted peers participate in,” said LaMont. “So, this is an opportunity to really be out there, doing what everyone else is doing.”
"Ride to Unite" preceded the second day of the Gateway Cup, a competitive bike race held each year in St. Louis over Labor Day weekend.
Many of the "Ride to Unite" participants — including Brad Huff — are champion cyclists competing this weekend in the Gateway Cup. The races continue on Sunday in the Hill neighborhood, and Monday in Benton Park.
Huff — who grew up in Fair Grove, Missouri, and now lives in Colorado — said his goal is to help encourage people of all abilities to take up cycling.
“The more open and accepting we are, the more individuals that can participate in cycling, and the better the community is,” he said.
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