Iowa City student asks community to help her win adaptive bicycle

The Iowa City community lifts up Bella Perez in her pursuit to win the Great Bike Giveaway.



Grace Hamilton, News Reporter

Laura Perez said her daughter Bella has entered the Great Bike Giveaway for three consecutive years in hopes of winning a Van Raam OPair — an adaptive bicycle that would allow her to travel farther distances outdoors.

Bella Arenas-Pérez is a fourth-grade student at Christine Grant Elementary School in Iowa City who enjoys learning new languages, creating art, and playing with her younger brother Samuel.

As a toddler, Bella was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a motor disorder that impacts her ability to move and speak.

“The Van Raam OPair would help Bella and our family because we could go places where we cannot go outdoors. She has an adaptive bike now, but she cannot go very far on it,” Perez said. “We are hoping we can get this so I can ride with her and she can go outdoors with her brother. As a family, we could be outdoors together much more.”

The Van Raam OPair is an adaptive bicycle that can transport a wheelchair user. The bike’s front — which can separate from the rest of the structure for use as a wheelchair — is a seat secured to the bike’s back end.

Although Bella has entered the Great Bike Giveaway on two other occasions, Perez said she has slightly fallen short on winning the bike both times.

Perez added there are a few different ways an entrant can win a bike.

“The first way to win is if you earn 50 or more votes, you can enter into a drawing. Another way is if you have the most votes of all entrants, then you can win. The last way is you can raise the money for the specific bike you want,” she said. “We are asking people to vote and share. Even though we have not asked for money, people have donated, and that’s great because that money still goes to a good place.”

Suppose the contestant with the highest number of votes has raised enough money to fund a bicycle. In that case, the person with the next most votes will also win a bike, Perez added.

Although Bella’s heart is set on riding the Van Raam OPair, Perez said her daughter remains most focused on helping others.

“She pays a lot of attention to childhood cancer and is concerned about how they cannot find a cure,” Perez said. “She asked me one day, ‘How can I help, mom?'”

Bella used her passion for art to design 13 Harry Potter-themed drawings to create into a calendar. She sold 106 copies of her calendar, donating all of the proceeds to Dance Marathon 27.

Perez said Bella extended her donations overseas, selling 100 calendars in Columbia, and donating the proceeds to two Columbian organizations: Yo Amo A Mi Gente and Pequeñas Apóstoles de la redención.

Bella’s Aunt, Maria Perez, has kept in touch with Bella over Facetime since the pandemic’s outbreak and helped her bring the calendar to life.

“I was able to help Bella with the background and the front page. I also helped decide which type of paper and format was best. She really wanted to help other kids,” Maria Perez said. “She always inspires me with her kindness and open mind.”

When Bella isn’t working on big projects, she attends online school and is a passionate student.

Laura Perez said Bella attends online school from home using a Tobbi device that tracks her eye movements. The Tobbi device allows Bella to draw, type, and complete other digital tasks by following her eyes across the screen.

Bella’s teacher Jill Johnsen said Bella is not only an enthusiastic learner but also a role model.

“Despite the struggles that she has with her speech and movement, she is determined to do everything. Bella encourages everybody, and she encourages me,” Johnsen said. “She has made an impact on my life in the short amount of time I’ve known her that is not typical of every student. She takes all focus away from what she goes through and puts that into making other people feel good about themselves.”