Joseph Haynie and Keenan O’Hagan have been buds for years — they go to the beach, hang out and watch car videos and Keenan tags along if Haynie goes out of town
But they ran into a challenge when it came to riding bicycles together. Keenan, who is severely autistic and has traumatic brain injury, needs to be able to see Haynie in order to communicate with him, but most bicycles don’t allow this.
“They have bikes for people with limited mobility, but the seat’s in front of the rider facing forward or in the back facing forward, which doesn’t allow for eyesight,” Haynie said, adding that Keenan needs to be able to see him so he can let Haynie know if he’s hungry or thirsty or if he wants to stop. “I was trying to figure this out and there was nothing out there that I could provide for Keenan that would make him feel secure and safe and have a good time.”
Haynie, who works for Del Norte County Unified School District, has been Keenan’s one-on-one teacher for about seven years. Haynie has also been Keenan’s In-Home Support Services worker for about three years. Haynie said Keenan will be leaving the school system this year, so he’s working on getting support from the Redwood Coast Regional Center for him.
When it came to finding a bicycle that Keenan would be comfortable with, Haynie said a search on Facebook led him to Grants Pass. But since the seat for a special needs passenger was behind the rider, it wouldn’t have worked for Keenan, Haynie set about getting one built.
Though this was an expensive undertaking, Haynie said he received donations from several people in the community including teachers, Keenan’s family and his own family. Redwood Welding Service owner Don Nuss pitched in to build the bike’s frame. Pacific Powder Coating in Arcata ensured it would be protected from the elements, while Revolution Bikes, also in Arcata, installed new bearings, handlebars and new brakes.
What Haynie ended up with was a bicycle with a sidecar that would allow Keenan to face forward and maintain eye contact while they ride. Nuss also made sure to install a 3-point racing harness for Keenan so he can stay upright.
And though it may sound unwieldy, especially when Keenan’s in the passenger seat, Haynie says he can go as fast as any other person on a BMX bicycle, especially on flat terrain.
“If I were to describe Don Nuss, he would be the Michelangelo of metal work,” Haynie said. “The back wheel of the bike and the front wheel over by Keenan’s seat, they lift up just a little bit and it kind of teeter totters. (Nuss) did it because he knows that when we both sit down on the bike, those wheels will touch down. We have a heavy-duty chain on it and it rides really really nice up a little hill no problem. On the flats it’s awesome. It really books it and so it’s a pleasure to ride.”
Nuss used a cantilever system and incorporated two bicycle forks enabling the front wheels on the bike to turn simultaneously, Haynie said.
Haynie said he found out that he could easily pedal the bicycle up small hills with Keenan in the passenger seat on a short ride after getting it back from Pacific Powder Coating in Arcata. After doing laps around the Arcata Plaza, Haynie said he and Keenan decided to stop for an ice cream break at Arcata Scoop, just off the Plaza.
“Leaving the square you go downhill and then downhill from there and we had to come back uphill to the square to the truck,” Haynie said. “That’s when, after the bike was completely done, I discovered, man it does actually pretty well up the hills.”
Haynie, who began working for Del Norte County Unified School District in 2008 and for New Dawn Support Services for about a year and a half prior to that, said he doesn’t see his career as work, rather he gets to hang out with people who have special needs and enjoy their successes and he just happens to get paid for it.
For Haynie, spending time with Keenan — who he said “was not a kid that anybody wanted to hang out with” when he first began working with him — is a joy.
“You walk into any business in this town and ask about the mohawk kid, ‘cause he has a mohawk usually, they’ll tell you ‘Oh my gosh, that’s Keenan and he’s awesome!’” Haynie said. “I think all kids with special needs, they start out with that roughness and you introduce them to society and you show them how things work and they come around. They build relationships and they just want to be a part of the community and a part of everybody else.”
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .