Learning to ride a bike can be a rite of passage for children everywhere, one of the earliest tickets to independence for young teens, and a way to simply get outside, maybe meet up with friends and get exercise while enjoying fresh air.
For East Quogue resident Anna Tuzzolo, experiencing all the benefits bike riding has to offer hasn’t come easy. Learning to ride a traditional two-wheel bike has been a challenge for the 20-year-old, who has autism. Her mother, Patty Tuzzolo, wasn’t sure it would ever be accessible for her daughter, until a memory from her own childhood sparked an idea, one that has opened a whole new world for Anna.
There is an old photo of Ms. Tuzzolo, taken when she was around 6 years old, sitting alongside her grandmother, Connie Mauro, on a side-by-side bicycle for two. They are seated on the bike’s bench seat, posing on a bayside street in the Shinnecock Shores neighborhood where Ms. Tuzzolo spent much of her childhood. Ms. Mauro is wearing a floral shift dress and flip flops, one hand on the green metal front bar, the other on the steering handle, while Ms. Tuzzolo, in sneakers, dark denim overalls, a striped shirt, and thick bangs, drapes one arm over the bar and the other hand on the steering device. An olive green canvas top, complete with white fringe, provides both a 1970s-era decorative flair and relief from the sun.
Unlike more traditional bikes built for two, where the riders sit one behind the other, this style of bike allows the riders to sit adjacent to each other while pedaling. With two wheels in the back and one in the front, it would be more accurate to call it a tricycle built for two. Ms. Tuzzolo remembered the stability the bike provided and thought maybe it would be the way for her daughter to finally experience the joy of bike riding.
She was right.
For the past few weeks, Patty and Anna Tuzzolo have been frequently spotted riding the bike through Shinnecock Shores, not far from their home just outside the neighborhood, where every short side street ends with views of the bay. They are often delivering the fruits of their main quarantine activity — baking — to neighbors.
In the few months they’ve had it, the bike has become more than an outlet for activity and recreation, and a fun delivery device for the surplus of baked goods they create. With her mother by her side, Anna has been able to raise money for the Flying Point Foundation — a local nonprofit that provides support and funds programs and services for people with autism on the East End — through “Bike To The Beach,” a national nonprofit that organizes fundraising bike rides in coastal towns throughout the United States.
Local nonprofits, like Flying Point, sign up as partners in rides in their state. The money raised by Flying Point team members is funneled directly back to the foundation, so that money raised locally stays local. Most of the 20 team members raising money for Flying Point will complete a ride from New York City to the East End (adhering to CDC recommendations), but Anna is doing the event virtually, logging her miles locally.
She has pledged to log 100 miles on her bike before the end of September.
Figuring out the type of bike that would work best for Anna was only one part of the equation for the Tuzzolo family. Getting their hands on that kind of bike was another matter, one that took a fair amount of determination in the form online research and putting the word out to friends. The effort also put a few hundred miles on Anna’s father Al Tuzzolo’s truck. Ms. Tuzzolo found several manufacturers who make side-by-side bikes for two, although most of them were prohibitively expensive, and others would take weeks to arrive, meaning they’d be taking stock of the bike just around the time it would be too cold to ride.
Eventually, a friend of Ms. Tuzzolo’s put her in touch with another friend with a penchant for tracking down items on online marketplaces. Within 24 hours, they’d found what they were looking for — a lightly used side-by-side, three-speed “Team Dual” Trike, made by Workman’s Cycles. The bike was located in Blairsville, Pennsylvania, being sold by a woman whose grandparents had owned it but no longer needed it, and in June, Mr. Tuzzolo, got in his truck with a friend and made the nearly seven hour drive to the western Pennsylvania town to pick it up.
“It was in great shape, and it was the exact bike we were looking for,” Ms. Tuzzolo said. “It was meant to be.”
Last Saturday, Anna and Ms. Tuzzolo were greeted with honks and waves from passing cars as they leisurely made their way through the neighborhood on a warm and sunny day, with individually wrapped bags of homemade chocolate chip cookies filling the basket on the back of their bike. Ms. Tuzzolo is keeping track of the mileage, as they work toward their goal of 100 miles by the end of September, and Anna is still collecting pledges for her efforts. The Flying Point Foundation is an organization near to their hearts, and Ms. Tuzzolo has been on the board for years, currently serving as treasurer.
“Flying Point has been great for Anna,” she said. “It’s a fabulous organization, and I think it’s important to give back. And there’s no reason why Anna can’t give back, too. She just needs help.”
The bike has been well worth the cost and the effort it took to find it, Ms. Tuzzolo said. Not only is it enabling Anna to pay it forward to an organization that has done so much for her, but it has also opened up opportunities for her that Ms. Tuzzolo says are crucial for her continued development, while giving her a way to interact with her peers.
“It’s a social opportunity for her for her whole life,” she said. “Kids always bike with other kids, and adults bike together. If you can have fun and get some exercise at the same time, it’s a win-win.”
On Saturday, Anna and her mother were joined by their neighbor, Tara Daniels, and her son Cooper, 12. Ms. Tuzzolo hopes to continue their bike rides with friends into the fall, saying she’s particularly happy to give her daughter something else to look forward to aside from her other favorite outdoor activity: going to the ocean.
“We go there as much as we can, but I won’t take her to a beach without a lifeguard, so that’s an activity that ends early for her,” she said.
Ms. Tuzzolo said she’s glad she persevered in her desire to find another outlet for Anna. That the inspiration came from her own childhood provides an extra layer of nostalgia and satisfaction. Finding the bike has also been a reminder that having autism doesn’t always have to be limiting.
“I feel like if you have a disability, it doesn’t mean you can’t do something,” Ms. Tuzzolo said. “It just means you need some help.”
Anna Tuzzolo’s fundraising page can be found at my.biketobeach.org/AnnaTuzzolo.