PINELLAS PARK — The bright green tricycle is her independence. It's her fun. It's the means by which the 14-year-old girl with cerebral palsy might one day walk unaided.
But sometime Saturday night, Christine Garner's special therapy trike was stolen from her family's porch.
Her mother has desperately searched for the $2,200 tricycle. Every day that passes, Christine gets stiffer and feels pain like arthritis in her joints. Her mother tries to help with warm baths, but it's not the same.
Four years ago, Christine had both hips replaced, and a doctor suggested the tricycle to stretch and strengthen her legs.
She takes it to the park, to walk her dog, to play with friends and to run errands with her family.
But now it's gone. It was stolen while the family slept, said Christine's mother, Tricia Garner.
Why would someone take it, Garner wonders.
She's checked Pinellas Park pawnshops. But who would buy such a specialized tricycle?
She shared photos with local scrap metal dealers. But they tell her it's not worth much.
It's of no use to most people. But to Christine, it's everything.
"I feel like there's freedom with my bike," she said.
Christine is a happy girl who likes to laugh. She loves horses, singing and reading.
She hopes that whoever stole her trike really needed it.
"That's very nice of you to think that," said Susan Conza, principal of Morning Star School, the Catholic school for disabled children that Christine attends.
"I try to think that," Christine says, laughing. "It doesn't always work."
Tricia Garner has done everything she can, including reporting the theft to police. She sent out a prayer request by e-mail with a picture of Christine grinning on the trike.
PLEASE FORWARD & POST, the mother wrote. We need all eyes and prayers!
Garner has heard from more than 100 people, including many who want to donate money for a new trike. A friend offered to host a fundraiser. But Garner wants to wait a few more days.
"There are so many people in need right now," she said. "I just can't ask people for money."
Instead, she hopes someone will spot the trike, perhaps discarded on the side of some road.
Or maybe the thieves will hear of her daughter's story and realize the girl needs it more.
As for Christine, her positive attitude is unshakable. She says the ordeal has made her realize how many people care for her.
"It makes me feel wonderful, happy and loved," she said.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3433.