July 16, 2018
School & Youth
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  • Twins McKenna (PHOTO #1) and Cameron (PHOTO #2) Lee undertook a bicycle ride from Key Largo to Key West as part of Bike to the Beach, a charity event for autism research and awareness.
    Photo Provided
    Twins McKenna (PHOTO #1) and Cameron (PHOTO #2) Lee undertook a bicycle ride from Key Largo to Key West as part of Bike to the Beach, a charity event for autism research and awareness.
  • Twins McKenna (PHOTO #1) and Cameron (PHOTO #2) Lee undertook a bicycle ride from Key Largo to Key West as part of Bike to the Beach, a charity event for autism research and awareness.
    Photo Provided
    Twins McKenna (PHOTO #1) and Cameron (PHOTO #2) Lee undertook a bicycle ride from Key Largo to Key West as part of Bike to the Beach, a charity event for autism research and awareness.

Mom And Daughters Bike To The Beach For Autism Research

Judy Tacyn
Judy Tacyn's picture
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March 6, 2018

Fraternal twins Cameron and McKenna are like most teenage sisters. They like to play together and spend time with their parents, Julie Allen and Rob Lee, and their two dogs, two quail and 10 fish. However, some activities that most families take for granted are challenging for the 13-year-olds. At age 2, McKenna was diagnosed with autism.

“[Autism] is a challenge only when you expect otherwise,” said Allen. “Cameron sometimes wants to play or just do neurotypical, 13-year-old girls stuff with McKenna and that is sometimes disappointing. Also, public outings are sometimes embarrassing to Cameron if McKenna is not behaving appropriately.”

Allen said the family tries not to view autism as having a negative effect on the family. “It is easy to take basic, learned skills for granted, especially when you have a twin sibling setting the example,” said Allen. “It opened my eyes and sent me into survival mode when I saw McKenna not knowing how to jump up and down at the age of 2. I constantly look for ways to teach her.”

The twins attend Magothy River Middle School; however, they previously attended Pasadena Elementary School, an Anne Arundel County Public Schools designated autism program site. There, Allen learned of a 100-mile bike ride to benefit autism research.

“Eight or nine years ago, while the girls were attending Pasadena Elementary, one of McKenna’s teachers was wearing a Bike to the Beach bracelet,” recalled Allen. “As soon as I learned that it was a one-day, 100-mile charity bike ride from Washington, D.C., to Dewey Beach, Delaware, to benefit autism research and awareness, I knew I wanted to do it.”

Allen’s first ride was in 2010, and despite her lack of training for the event, she was hooked. The entire family supported her by following in their car until she reached the finish line.

“One day, after completing a ride, Cameron said that she wanted to ride with me when she turned 12,” said Allen. That’s exactly what she did. “In 2016, Cameron was the youngest female to complete a century ride and has done more since then, including the recent Bike to the Beach from Key Largo to Key West, Florida.”

Allen said Cameron became focused on the opportunity of riding in the Florida Keys. Allen, however, wasn’t so excited thinking about the weather and how conditions can make the ride more difficult. She also thought about McKenna, who Allen desperately wanted to have join her on a ride.

“It made me sad that McKenna could not be included other than riding in a car, so I decided to look for a tandem road bike so she could ride with me,” said Allen. “I thought it was a great idea, although I was very nervous about how she might react or behave. McKenna has been able to ride a bike ever since the training wheels came off, but she is not able to ride alone due to the extreme need for road safety.”

Allen said that oftentimes it seems as though McKenna doesn’t mind being left out of some activities, but as a parent, Allen could tell that McKenna wanted to join her and Cameron, adding, “She just lit up when I asked her if she wanted to ride with Mom.”

The race that once included just Allen with her family riding alongside would now include mother and daughters. As it turned out, the ride was anything but uneventful.

“We encountered some severe weather riding across the 7-mile bridge in the Florida Keys,” said Allen. “Cameron was riding ahead of us with another group at that point and I feared for the safety of all of us. I believe McKenna sensed this.”

For 7 miles and 45 minutes, the riders faced hail-like rain and 25 mph winds. Allen admits that a 7-mile bridge, with no shoulder and 200 feet in the air on a bike may not have been the best idea, but the trio made it safely across and learned a lot about perseverance in the process.

“After we crossed the finish in Florida, it was not too long before McKenna said, ‘Bike mom, more bike; more bike, please!’” said Allen.

The Key Largo to Key West trek was Cameron’s third Bike to the Beach event, and the McKenna riding tandem with mom is the first of many. “I could not be happier or more proud to be able to do this together with my girls,” Allen said.

What’s her advice to parents? “Never hesitate to try something new, no matter the outcome.”


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