Cole Odenweller cannot express his own dreams.
An undiagnosed neurodegenerative disorder makes sure of that. But it is fair to say that a new special-needs bicycle would be a dream come true for this teenager who has outgrown his old one.
Until he was 14, Cole rode a child's-size bicycle that he received at age 6 every day for 45 to 60 minutes as physical therapy.
Eventually, he could no longer pedal it because his knees hit the handlebars and his size caused it to tip over.
It has been a year since Cole has been unable to ride. Now 15, he has paid the price. He has lost muscle tone, and when he tries to stand, his legs buckle.
His mother, Lori Odenweller, who works as a cashier at UC Davis Extension, applied through medical insurance and other programs for a new and larger bicycle. She was denied because it was viewed as recreational, she said, even though her son's neurologist told her it is important to his physical health. The $5,500 price tag is more than the family can afford.
Cole's life has been the essence of bittersweet. At birth, he seemed perfectly healthy.
"Ten fingers, 10 toes. Life was great," his mother recalled. But soon, he began to miss critical milestones, such as being able to sit up on his own or to crawl. Doctors were able to zero in on his serious nerve and muscle damage but have never been able to provide a diagnosis.
Today, Cole needs intensive care with feeding, dressing, bathing and diapering. He has a vocabulary of about 200 words and the developmental ability of a 2- to 4-year-old.
Yet despite his limitations, his disposition is one of warmth and cheer.
He smiles and says "Hiiiii!" to people on the street in his neighborhood in Woodland. He goes gladly on the bus each day to a special day class at Woodland High School. He loves toy cars and balls and flashlights, church on Sunday mornings and teasing back and forth with his brother, Bryce, who is 11. He takes utter joy in the freedom of being in a pool with his life jacket on.
"He's the purest form of unconditional love that you could experience," Odenweller said. "He's never going to know the yuck in this world."
From the time Cole was a toddler and the magnitude of his disabilities became clear, Odenweller and Cole's father, Mark Odenweller, who has shared custody, chose to focus on what their son could do, not on what he couldn't.
One of their key goals is to prevent him from becoming permanently and exclusively dependent on a wheelchair, which they fear will reduce the quality and length of his life.
That's why a bigger bicycle is so important. Although Cole takes part in therapeutic horseback riding and swimming, pedaling a bike provides the kind of resistance therapy that can help him maintain leg strength and prevent muscle contractions. It also provides a break from the wheelchair and the simple but welcome sense of freedom and independence.
The family's hope is that a new adult-size bicycle will bring these gifts back into Cole's life for many years to come.
NEEDED: Special adult-sized bicycle