Against the backdrop of rustling of the trees and the thousands of people who walk, ride or play sports in Central Park, a small number of people are riding their bikes in the dark. Hashim Kirkland is one of them.
Kirkland, 33, is part of about 30 to 50 blind bikers who ride their bikes on tandem (two-person) bikes in Central Park every Saturday.
“I love riding, just the thrill of flying through the street,” he says. “You know I like to bike because not just the captain has control but I have control of the bike.”
In the tandem biking system, the captain sits in the front and the stalker sits in the back. Kirkland recounts that riding one’s bike in tandem fashion is teamwork, with both parties equally having to pull their weight to propel the bicycle on its path.
“You’re doing the work and not just your captain, but you have to pedal yourself to get up that hill,” he says.
Kirkland lost his vision at the age of four. To him losing his vision at a young age was a traumatic experience.
“It was like I was an outsider looking in,” he says. “Even though I had some friends it wasn’t exactly the same because I couldn’t do everything that they were doing.”
Sports have been a longtime interest for him, following the footsteps of his siblings. Though he has always wanted to ramp up his sporting activities to tackle new challengers, an over protective father prevented him from fully pursuing his interests as a child. So when Kirkland heard about groups that organize sports for blind people, he was keen to take up the challenge.
“Thanks to some friends of mine who told me about things that they are offered for people who are visually impaired or totally blind, I just jumped on it.”
This is a story about Hashim’s personal journey with cycling – his hopes, fears and sentiments, along with an exploration of the social and other benefits of cycling for him.
(Hashim Kirkland): I love riding, just the thrill of flying through the street. You know I like to bike because not just the captain has control but I have control of the bike. I have to make it move, because the bike is heavy so I have to make it move. I got to get up and down that hill and I have to make sure that I do my part as well, I just love that.
(Older man): We’re tandem bike riding in Central Park. Yeah that’s right we have 10 blind people on the bike and it’s going in all different directions at once.
(Hashim Kirkland): I lost my vision at the age of four. It was like I was an outsider looking in. Even though I had some friends it wasn’t exactly the same because I couldn’t do everything that they were doing. You know I always wanted to do sports. My sisters did sports. I just wanted to be a part of sports, and thanks to some friends of mine who told me about things that they are offered for people who are visually impaired or totally blind, I just jumped on it. The captain sits in the front, me the stalker I sit in the back, and they let me know if we’re going to stop or we’re going to start. You’re doing the work and not just your captain, but you have to pedal yourself to get up that hill.
(Benjamin Booker): Hashim definitely is very enthusiastic and enjoys cycling a lot. He’s really strong, I mean for me it makes my job a lot easier to have him as my stalker riding in the back. It’s also very social. We’ve been getting to know each other already. You know we joke and we have fun and it’s a really good experience.
(Hashim Kirkland): I’ve met so many people who are blind and sighted. Good people to know, good friends. I have a lot of friends. We hang out outside of the group. We go eating together we do different things together. We just have some great camaraderie, good friends.
Well thanks to being in New York City it’s not as bad to have a social life. There’s so much stuff out there for people who are visually impaired to do.
(lady): Holy moly this is a high one!
(Hashim Kirkland): It’s scary, it’s a struggle for me. You have to fight to get yourself in there. People people pushing you in, people pushing you out, they step around you they don’t care. You really have to swing that cane and fight your way through.
It’s a struggle, it’s a fight and you have to have to have that determination to get to the top. And once you get that in your head you’re able to do anything. It’s such a fulfillment to know that I can do it.
Contact Suman Bhattacharyya