By Jonathan Weaver
A local boy represented Armstrong County a few weeks ago in the Pittsburgh Labor Day parade.
Connor Shilling, 13, suffers from Down syndrome, PDD – pervasive development disorder (a form of autism) – and ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but rode his adaptive bicycle received through the Variety Children’s Charity of Pittsburgh.
Mother, Laura, and father, Steve, went with Connor for his ride downtown.
“We were invited to be part of the parade through (CEO) Charlie LaVallee– they notified me by phone and asked if we would like to be a part of the Labor Day parade through the ‘My Bike’ program,” Laura said.
Connor was one of five local kids who received a bike in May 2013, and likes to ride near his house in North Buffalo Township, at the West Hills school campus and along the Rails to Trails in Ford City.
During the parade, Connor rode from Grant Street to the Boulevard of the Allies.
“Riding in the parade was really different because he’s never experienced riding in a city. We live in a rural area, and we found out he can really take off!,” Laura said. “He loved it. It was more open and free for him to be able to pedal a distance.
“He has so much more independence on (the bike).”
Steve – a PennDOT construction inspector – even knew his union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local Union #2612, walked in the parade.
“All the groups were cheering the kids on – waving and smiling – and there was one woman who even gave Connor a flag to carry throughout the parade,” Laura said. “It was wonderful.”
Connor – who also participated in Challenger baseball with the Reserve Athletic Association – also rode with his family at a bike parade during a black-tie gala in Pittsburgh in November and was invited to a Halloween party this October. He is a life skills student at Clelian Heights School– a Catholic special-needs school – in Greensburg.
At the time Connor received it, about 250 adaptive bicycles were given to children regionally, but now Variety has awarded more than 500 bicycles.
Brother, Ryan, was at Duquesne University student studying health management systems during the parade, but Laura hopes her sons can maybe one day ride a tandem bike.
About seven other counties – such as Allegheny, Beaver and Westmoreland – were also represented in the parade.