EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Nathan Cherico was given the gifts of freedom and independence for his 10th birthday Saturday, when a Delaware-based nonprofit gave him a tricycle made just for him.
Nathan, who lives in Northfield with his parents, Sabrina Drake and Sean Cherico, has cerebral palsy, autism and an undiagnosed genetic disorder.
He is nonverbal and sensitive to overstimulation when there’s a lot going on around him.
But he loves to ride his tricycle.
“He really likes outdoors, and he really likes movement. He seeks movement; it calms him,” Drake said. “This bike will help us be able to let him have a bike ride as a normal kid would.”
The founders of Preston’s March for Energy, a nonprofit based in Wilmington, hand-delivered a custom tricycle at his birthday party at the Dance and Fitness Factory.
The blue tricycle has oversized pedals, a hip strap and trunk support to hold him upright, and a steering bar so he can be pushed if he runs low on energy or needs guidance.
Family and friends watched as Nathan, a bit shy and overwhelmed by the attention, sat on his new tricycle for the first time.
“It gives him some of that distance,” Drake said. “There’s someone there to steer him, but it gives him that freedom.”
Deb and Steve Buenaga created Preston’s March for Energy after raising money to buy an adaptive bike for their son, Preston, who has mitochondrial disease. The Buenagas said the genetic disorder leaves their son with low muscle tone and developmental delays.
“When Preston rode his bike for the first time, he didn’t get off for an hour and a half,” Deb Buenaga said. “We thought, ‘There have to be so many other kids that deserve this opportunity.’”
The bikes generally cost between $1,500 and $2,500, Deb said, and the nonprofit relies on donations and fundraisers to be able to give them to kids who need them.
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But they’ve been successful, giving away 384 bikes over eight years, hand-delivering each one in more than 34 states across the country. And, through their repurposing program, Nathan’s old bike, which he outgrew, is already earmarked for another child.
“The only time that Preston doesn’t need us is when he’s riding his bike,” Steve Buenaga said. “That’s what the bike does for these children — it gives them the freedom and independence they deserve.”
Among the party guests was one of Nathan’s nurses, Dominique Johnson, of Glassboro, Gloucester County, who has been working with him for five years.
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“He’s very active,” Johnson said. “And he’s a good boy. I really feel like it’s honestly something he deserves.”
In addition to school, Nathan is constantly in therapy, working on his communication and other skills, Drake said.
“Nathan requires a lot of work,” Drake said. “School is a lot more difficult for him than a lot of kids. Even something like sitting still is hard for him.”
So when he’s not in school or therapy, Drake and Cherico make time to have fun. Nathan enjoys roller coasters — “the crazier the better,” Drake said — as well as swimming and getting out into the neighborhood.
“It’s really all about getting to that normalcy and letting him be a kid,” Cherico said, crediting Drake with fighting hard to give Nathan whatever he needs to succeed. “He’s come a long way.”
To find out more about Preston’s Ride for Energy, visit prestonsmarch.org.