Annie and her dad, John Paul, riding an adaptive bike at the Grand Traverse Civic Center.

Leaving physical therapy four years ago after 18 years of practice wasn’t an easy decision.

In the clinic, I had the opportunity to help people move more and function better. The opportunity to help improve the human experience of my patients by optimizing movement. I miss that.

Three weeks ago, on a beautiful spring Tuesday morning at the Civic Center, I had that familiar feeling of purpose thanks to my new friend Annie.

Annie is a Traverse City native-born at Munson and the youngest of four. She loves blueberry pancakes and hanging with friends and family — she especially finds her nieces and nephews entertaining.

That Tuesday was a trial run for a Bikes for All meet-up for individuals with special needs. Annie brought her besties, Trevor, Maggie, Katie, and Max, to give it a test run.

We met at the Norte Clubhouse and then hopped on a variety of adaptive bikes. Adaptive bicycles are bikes modified to help those with unique abilities and challenges enjoy the power and joy of two wheels. After figuring out what bike fit who, we cruised around the Civic Center path together. We pedaled. We rang our bells. We laughed. We shared a wave and smile with others on the way. We had fun. Success.

Watching Annie and her friends experience the joy of riding bikes together made me smile. It was also a wake-up call.

A happy, healthy, strong community can not exist unless everyone is included.

A happy, healthy, strong community is more than the absence of disease and isolation.

A happy, healthy, strong community is about whole physical, mental and social well-being.

A happy, healthy, strong community is a fundamental right of every human being.

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t done a great job of helping Norte be an inclusive organization.

Team Orange currently serves students with special needs at North Ed’s New Campus, Life Skill Center, Traverse Heights, and Oak Park schools. We also meet-ups for the region’s deaf community. These programs are a good start. But, we can do more. And we can do better — way better.

Thanks to Annie and her crew’s nudge, I’m ready to do just that.

Starting June 8, we’ll add a weekly group ride for those with special needs who are 26 and older. This group’s social and community opportunities are limited due, in part, to aging out of school programs.

Thanks to continued donations, Norte’s fleet of adaptive bikes is growing to meet various abilities and needs.

These Tuesday morning Bikes for All meet-ups will get more individuals outside, feeling the sun and wind on their faces and meeting new friends. It will also help us ignite active-for-life for all, regardless of abilities and challenges.

To learn more, visit elgruponorte.org/tuesdays

I can’t wait for the following Tuesday with Annie and her friends.

Bikes. For. All.

Ty Schmidt is the executive director of Norte! a youth-focused nonprofit dedicated to building walk/bike communities.

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