'Just an amazing gift'

Man builds bike free of charge for girl, 13, with orthopedic issues

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Thirteen-year-old Kate Danner, left, tries out a custom, hand-cranked bike that Gary Dagastine, right, designed and built free of charge.

POST FALLS - With a smile and a flourish, Gary Dagastine pulled off the white sheet that covered Kate Danner's new bike.

She clambered aboard and settled into the wide seat, her shoes on the metal floorboards, her hands on the big crank that powered the three-wheeled machine. Dagastine gave her a push, Kate turned the handles and the bike started rolling.

"It's cool," said Kate, a soft-spoken 13-year-old from Coeur d'Alene. "It felt good. I like it."

The one-of-a-kind contraption was unveiled Saturday at Northwest Recumbent Cycles in Post Falls, a company Dagastine

owns and operates. About six months earlier, Kate's parents, Suzie and Jason Danner, had contacted Dagastine and inquired about a special bike for their daughter.

"Now that I think of it, he never actually gave us a quote," Suzie recalled in an e-mail. "I told him it wouldn't be until this next spring, but he said he wanted to meet her to see what would work for her, so he could start working on it."

Kate was born with multiple orthopedic issues that limited the use of her legs. Between July 2009 and May 2010 she endured four spinal surgeries, and now walks with a small cane.

She needed something unique, a bike that was built for her, and the inventive Dagastine was just the man for the job. He sketched Kate's silhouette on a piece of cardboard, so the bike would be just the right size. Then he gathered parts from 12 different bicycles, came up with a design and started fabricating.

The trike required hours of labor, but Dagastine told Suzie and Jason he'd build it free of charge.

"Every kid deserves a bike," he explained. "It's a rite of passage. I said, 'Well, we're not gonna worry about cost.'"

The Danners were moved by the gesture.

"To me it's amazing," Suzie said. "It's amazing generosity what he's done ... for her mobility, and that kind of independence. Just an amazing gift."

A few other craftspeople also donated their time and skills to the project, Dagastine pointed out. Tim Johnson of Johnsons Auto Body in Hayden smoothed out the welds and painted the frame black. Tiana Byrd, a talented cake decorator, added the bike's stylish lime-green flames (using edible paint, in fact), while the folks at ABC Upholstery in Post Falls took care of the seat back.

The Danners brought the bike home on Saturday, but it will probably return to Dagastine's workshop for some fine-tuning and re-fitting.

"I know we're going to wind up changing gear ratios and stuff on it," Dagastine said. "I don't care if they're here every day for the next year (adjusting the bike). Now it's hers. She's got it, she can enjoy it."

This wasn't Dagastine's first free bike, though. He's given away other trikes and recumbents, occasionally to children with special needs or disabilities.

"He takes great time and interest in the child," Jason said. "It's nice to have somebody like that in the community. I think (Kate) will remember it most of her life. You just have a sense of appreciation that there are people out there who kind of understand."

After he loaded the bike into the car, Jason told Dagastine how he felt.

"We've really been quite touched by what you've done here," he said.

Kate intends to go riding as soon as the weather warms up. There's some trails by her home she'd like to try. Last summer, when her youth group was planning a bike trip, she couldn't ride along - a disappointment that prompted the Danners to contact Dagastine in the first place.

Now, cranking along with both hands, getting some great exercise, Kate can ride her bike wherever she wants. There's no trail she can't conquer. And maybe her three older sisters will tag along, too.

"We can ride as a family, which will be nice," Suzie said. "It's a gift. We're all very excited about it. There really aren't words. I'm trying to search for words, but there really aren't words."

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