Wearing Out Kids During a Pandemic

Seth McBrideI’m writing this from my desk as my 3-year-old son naps in the other room. I will write as long as he stays asleep. When Ewan wakes, a rustling sound of him stretching will come through the monitor before he stands up and yells, “Hey Baba! I’m awake in here!” Then I will be done working until my wife, Kelly, comes home. After dinner together, and then reading Yertle the Turtle, I will sit back at this desk and try to write some more.

Kelly works on the frontlines in the ICU treating COVID-19 patients, and our daycare is closed, so my work flexibility means that I’m on duty full time with Ewan and Kenai, our 7-month-old heeler puppy. Child and dog parenting, work, fitness, sleep, washing dishes — there aren’t enough hours in the day for all of these things, so I hack my schedule as much as I can and try to combine activities wherever possible.


Everyone in our household is liable to flip out if they don’t get a minimum amount of physical activity. During quarantine, though, my lack of alone time has made me reconfigure what a workout looks like.

If I’m working out, either Ewan needs to be involved, or I need to be wearing Kenai out too. Early in the quarantine, I made a quad-friendly tug-of-war toy for Kenai out of the end of an old tie-down strap I had in the garage (two-packs are $10-$15 from many online retailers or hardware stores). There was already a loop in one end, and I tied a loop in the other. I wrap one loop around my wrist to bypass my grip-less fingers, and Kenai chomps the other.

I roll onto the carpet — better purchase for Kenai’s claws — hold onto my chair with one hand and let her grab on. Swinging her back and forth, I alternate arm motions: rows, bicep curls, straight-arm pullbacks and triceps extensions. I switch arms and do it again. After 10 minutes, she’s panting, and my arms are burning.

Another option involves using Ewan as a weight vest. I’ll transfer out of my chair onto the carpet or the mat in our garage workout space and then flip over on my belly. He’ll climb onto my back, lie down and wrap his arms around my neck. I’ll do a set of pushups, him giggling, me grunting with an extra wiggly 35 pounds of resistance. Then he’ll climb off, I’ll flop over into a seated position and put my legs up onto my handcycle seat or the ottoman. Using two stools and Ewan on my back, I’ll crank out some dips. The benefit of using a toddler instead of a typical weight vest is that he climbs on and off on his own. And when I go by his count — 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 13, 20 — the reps go by quicker than ever.

A quad-friendly tug toy works out man and dog.

A quad-friendly tug toy works out man and dog.

The Heeler Sled

Ewan really likes bikes, which is nice, because I really like bikes, so our daily pandemic routine revolves around rides. He’s been on a strider bike — basically a tiny bike without pedals that kids can use before they gain the confidence or coordination to operate them — since he was 2. For a toddler, Ewan puts some distance in, regularly striding for 3 miles or so if we have the time. But Kenai is bred to run and could put 10 miles in at Ewan pace and barely be panting by the end. I thought wearing her and Ewan out were two separate activities, until one day I had Kenai alongside my Bowhead off-road bike with Kelly and Ewan leading.

I was getting frustrated because Kenai just kept pulling and pulling. I finally said screw it, gave up on the leash training and let her at it. Suddenly she’d gone full sled dog, towing me and my 100 pound electric mountain bike like she was racing to Nome. A mile and a half later, she was exhausted and no longer interested in pulling. The same method works on a regular handcycle; just make sure you have good brakes and a chest harness for the pup.

Pedal Bike

I never thought I’d be able to teach Ewan how to ride a pedal bike. The “training wheels off” image I had in my head was of a parent holding onto the seat of their kids’ bike, trying to keep up in an awkward, bent over shuffle. Then one day, Ewan and I were watching Brandon Semenuk’s segment in the mountain bike film Unreal (bit.ly/2Wk68GF), in which he spins and flips over bus-sized gaps with as much grace and beauty as I’ve ever seen anyone do anything. At the end of the segment, Ewan turned to me with his serious face and said, “Baba, I want you to teach me how to do that.”

Teaching Ewan to ride a pedal bike is working, thanks to a simple hack.

Teaching Ewan to ride a pedal bike is working, thanks to a simple hack.

“How ‘bout we start with pedaling?” I replied.

We went out to the garage and I transferred onto my Bowhead. Using one hand for the throttle and brake and the other for balancing his bike, I was able to ride it down to the sidewalk. Ewan got on, put his feet up on the pedals and I eased onto the throttle. We were off.

Amazingly enough, it worked. The same method was just as effective on my regular handcycle — a Top End Force CC. Me helping him on either bike is easier than if Kelly were doing it. I’m down low, so I don’t have to bend over and kill my back, and the side-by-side position lets me easily ride along and help with balance as needed. Most parents with handcycles should be able to do the same.

As we go to print, he’s still working on the pedaling. I’m not sure what I’m going to do when he’s ready for the flips and spins. Maybe start with some advice I learned the hard way: “If you’re going to do a backflip and a half, just go for the double.”

** This post was originally published on https://www.newmobility.com/2020/06/wearing-out-kids-during-a-pandemic/

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