Rosemarie Morrisette, Special to The Catholic Virginian

Cycling Without Age, a cycling program originating in Denmark, has made its way to Richmond, debuting in September at St. Francis Home, a ministry of the Diocese of Richmond that cares for 125 seniors and disabled adults with limited means.

With hundreds of chapters worldwide, Cycling Without Age is designed to help the elderly who are in care facilities overcome loneliness by regularly taking them out for rides in a specially built bike called a “trishaw.”

The trishaw is essentially a “cycle rickshaw” — that is, a rickshaw powered by peddling. The bike has one wheel in back and two in front. It carries an operator and two passengers comfortably, and is equipped with a seat belt, helmets, blankets, a canopy, and a battery-powered motor that makes peddling easier.

Operators are volunteer “pilots” who carefully take riders on short trips.

Dr. Travis Shaw, a Richmond plastic surgeon who introduced Cycling Without Age to St. Francis Home, learned of the program from his mother-in-law who saw a BBC video about it and thought of him.

She told him, “It’s you.”

As a cyclist and a man of faith with the desire to “give back” as his physician father had done with a faith-based free clinic in the Yorktown area, Shaw found the cycling program and St. Francis Home “a good match” — especially in light of the financial situation of its residents and the home’s Catholic affiliation.

“My mission with St. Francis is to share with the residents the joy of being outside on a bike, a relaxed conversation, and friendship,” he said, explaining his plans for the program. “Simply put, to let them know they don’t have to be lonely, they are not forgotten.”

He said he wants residents to be “out on the road” with “sun on their face, wind in their hair, experiencing the freedom that cycling provides,” noting that the program’s slogan is “The right to wind in your hair” at any age.

For his cycling project, Shaw personally purchased a trishaw, which is now garaged at St. Francis, but because of their expense — they cost $8,000 each — he has begun a fundraising effort to purchase more to place throughout Richmond. His fundraising page may be accessed at https://www.gofundme.com/CyclingWithoutAgeRVA.

Shaw envisions the Cycling Without Age Richmond chapter as “a positive force in the community.” Eventually, he would like to extend the program to children, shut-ins and veterans.

For now, he is heartened that St. Francis residents are excited about the trishaw rides and the program is underway.

Bruce Slough, St. Francis Home’s executive director, hopes residents can ride through late autumn and into early winter, and then resume riding in early spring. He would like to see them go to nearby Forest Hill Park one day, and envisions them stopping by a coffee shop on the journey.

Shaw would like to take them beyond the neighborhood, also, but is first getting them used to riding.

The cycling program’s partnership with St. Francis is indicative of the way in which the home operates – welcoming the community to minister to its residents. St. Francis depends on volunteers and on outside financial support to augment its funds.

In keeping St. Francis Home afloat and viable, Slough looks to its recent accomplishments and ongoing efforts to know they are doing well toward this end. Among them: the opening of a nutrition center; an expanded partnership with FeedMore; and the imminent purchase of a refrigerated food truck — all of which help keep food costs down.

Financial and volunteer efforts often go hand in hand.

In October, St. Francis board member Michael Denton, head of the Order of Malta in Richmond, guided the home in securing a $25,000 grant to upgrade its chapel. Meanwhile, order members have been regularly visiting the home one night a month to socialize with residents.

At St. Bridget Catholic Church, parishioners have supported St. Francis financially for years while volunteering, visiting residents, acting as worship leaders and serving as board members. The parish dedicates its second collection to the home one weekend every other month.

“Their compassion and care for the elderly poor is essential and so in keeping with what Jesus wants us to do,” Msgr. William H. Carr, pastor, said of the home.

By engaging residents in a variety of activities, St. Francis Home hopes to diminish the loneliness that can be detrimental to residents’ well-being. Sometimes the engagement “can come out of the blue and be quite interesting, adding to what the home itself can do … like the Cycling Without Age rides, where residents can benefit immensely from the social connectedness the trips offer.”

Slough earnestly cares about residents having experiences like this.

“Because our residents are among society’s most vulnerable – with no family, no money, mental and emotional disabilities, I want them to have something,” he said. “Anything that makes their lives better. Giving them ‘something’ is huge.”

He added that Shaw and his cycling program coming to St. Francis is “the closest thing to manna from heaven.”

Editor’s note: For more information on becoming a volunteer pilot, contact St. Francis Home at (804) 231-1043.