The river drives' popularity crowding out some fans

Posted: May 22, 2012

Looks to be a busy summer along the Schuylkill, where stalwarts can work up a sweat for such causes as the Strides for Stroke 5K Run/Walk, the Run For Your Life, and the Undy 5000, which sounds racier than it is — a fund-raiser to fight colon cancer.

For each activity — 16 are planned for Saturday and Sundays between now and the end of September — the city hands over Martin Luther King Drive, which it already closes to cars on weekends.

This raises a delicate question: Are there too many of these good ideas clogging up the river drives?

It’s not my question. It was posed to me by Rob Quinn, 40, a cyclist who, as he puts it, happens to have cerebral palsy.

Saturdays between April and October, under the eye of volunteers from the Pennsylvania Center for Adapted Sports, Quinn rides his 21-speed, recumbent three-wheeler along the river.

Except when he can’t, which he says is happening increasingly.

“Going to MLK Drive for the adapted-cycling program is the highlight of my week, and more and more, we are crowded out by a weekly charity walk,” he wrote me. “It’s great exercise for a lot of people with disabilities and a chance to connect with others (as well as everyone else who cycles, Rollerblades, runs, etc.). I used to go down and be able to pound out loops around the river area. I can’t tell you how great it was.”

He contacted me after being turned away May 5 because the MS Walk was scheduled to last all morning.

The city had not shared its schedule with adapted-sports director Jeff McGinnis, who then couldn’t get word out to the couple of dozen riders like Quinn with disabilities.

“Lately,” Quinn said, “it’s impossible to get a good ride in because these organized walks cut everyone else out.”

He encouraged me to write about his complaint, but only if I didn’t make him look pitiable. The former English lit major at West Chester University is writing a book titled I’m Not Here to Inspire You. He chronicles his life unflinchingly on a sports blog, Rob Q. Ink.

Quinn wanted to meet in person because his speech impairment makes talking by phone problematic. In the Springfeld, Delaware County, townhouse he shares with his mother, we sat at the kitchen table, where he laughed easily and complained about the Eagles.

People with cerebral palsy, a nervous-system and brain disorder, have varying degrees of function. “I think I’m somewhat in the middle,” he said, “though I’ve heard some people call me severe.”

Here’s what he wrote about his first day on the river in 2008.

“I went out on a street in Philadelphia, and under my own power went three miles on a bike. That may seem like no big deal, but as someone who has met brick wall after brick wall looking for activity in my life, it was anything but.?…

“I felt alive in a way I rarely experience, sharing the road with other bikers — able-bodied and disabled. Instead of watching a digital readout or the five TVs at the gym, I was passing actual trees and a river.”

Jazzed, he bought a cherry-red three-wheeler that provides the stability he lacks and started training.

By summer 2010, he was ready to join an MS ride to Atlantic City. He made the 75 miles in nine hours, with a volunteer at his side and his mother driving a chase vehicle.

The physical triumph of his life, he calls it. Now, he’s frustrated.

“It’s a problem,” Deputy Mayor Michael DiBerardinis says of park accessibility. “In a way, we’re victims of our own success. That’s a popular place.”

McGinnis met with Fairmount Park officials last week and says they promised to give better notice of events that will curb his intrepid bikers.

It’s a full schedule. Quinn won’t ride June 2, during the U.S. Pro Bike Race time trials, or during the Philadelphia Triathlon on June 23, or Aug. 5, during the Philadelphia She Rox Triathalon.

“I know it’s not all about us,” he said. “But it shouldn’t be all about the charity of the week, either.”

Contact Daniel Rubin at 215-854-5917, or drubin@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @danielrubin.

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