Next Wednesday and Thursday, 334 riders from around the country and Canada — including several from the Five Towns — will participate in the fifth annual Bike4Chai, a two day, 180 mile bike ride that raises money for the children of Chai Lifeline.
The ride goes through three states — New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York — and culminates at Camp Simcha, a remarkable location that Bike4Chai calls the “World’s Greatest Finish Line.” Camp Simcha and its sister camp, Camp Simcha Special, are Chai Lifeline’s flagship programs. Every year these two camps offer more than 400 children a chance to forget about illness and just be kids again.
Bike4Chai, and participation by riders in our community, have grown by leaps and bounds. In 2011, Bike4Chai had 150 riders, with seven from the Five Towns, and raised $550,000. This year, one week before the ride, Bike4Chai has over 20 Five Towners committed to ride and has raised over $3 million, surpassing last year’s fundraising of $2.8 million. The Five Towners have raised approximately $300,000, or ten percent of the total.
Training for an extreme ride like this one is no easy feat. The riders from the Five Towns, self-dubbed the 5T Riderz, keep in touch via instant messaging and constant emailing, about training rides, road conditions, weather, and more, exhorting each other to make the most of every ride. In the weeks leading up to Bike4Chai, the training regimen set by Bike4Chai’s Coach Avery Washington, calls for approximately 200 miles of riding per week, and a total of 10,000 feet of elevation. This is designed not only to acclimate the riders to the sheer distance of Bike4Chai, but some of the more punishing hills that the riders will face on this two-day test of endurance.
The Five Towns riders mix it up; riding on more leisurely 30 mile rides out to Point Lookout and back and more challenging terrain, such as taking Route 9W all the way up to Bear Mountain and back, a 100 mile ride (or “century” in cycling parlance).
Scott Farrell of North Woodmere is riding in Bike4Chai for the second time, in memory of a close family friend, Sari Ort, who battled cancer and succumbed to her illness at age 12 in late 2012. Sari was a Simcha camper and avid Chai Lifeline supporter.
“The courage and strength in the face of adversity of kids like Sari pale in comparison to anything that the Bike4Chai riders are doing,” said Farrell. “It is a truly a humbling experience to ride in her memory, and to pull into the camp that she attended and loved.” Farrell said he was inspired to do the ride by other Five Towns riders, including Avi Eisenberg and Allan Lieberman, who are riding in Bike4Chai for the 4th year in a row, and are a big part of bringing Bike4Chai to the Five Towns.
Earlier this summer, Eisenberg hosted a BBQ for over 50 cycling enthusiasts, including Bike4Chai riders, alumni, and people wanted to learn more about Chai Lifeline and its important mission. The BBQ was catered by Woodmere-based The Hickory. The crowd (many in Bike4Chai cycling gear, having just ridden into the Five Towns from Brooklyn) listened to Yoel Margolese, Project Coordinator of Chai Lifeline talk about the ride and Chai Lifeline’s mission, and Allan Lieberman recounted the Five Town’s continued and increased dedication to this important cause. Commitment to Bike4Chai was so great this year, that, by the date of the BBQ, Bike4Chai was closed to new participants.
While training requires many hours away from home, Farrell says his kids (and incredibly encouraging wife!) are supportive and understand what he is trying to accomplish. Farrell knew that his message about the importance of community service and tzedakah resonated with his children, when his eight year old daughter Chavi recently approached him with her wallet to donate herself.
Trying to juggle a work/life balance, which for Bike4Chai riders become a tri-part work/life/ride! balance, Tuli Weiss, another Five Towns rider, tries his best to get in rides before his children wake up, or after they have gone to sleep, pouring on the speed in a morning ride to try and beat the school/camp bus to his door. Weiss had been involved in Chai Lifeline for years as a contributor — both financial and blood platelets, and was inspired to do Bike4Chai after seeing a video about Camp Simcha. Weiss was motivated not only by the dedication and effort that the Camp Simcha staff exert on behalf of their wards, but by the disparate groups comprising Camp Simcha coming together in unity.
“I noticed in the videos, and then I personally saw at the camp, the heterogeneous makeup of campers from a wide range of backgrounds: Modern Orthodox, Chasidish, Yeshivish, Sephardi, etc., which motivated me to do more, and inspired me to sign up for Bike 4 Chai,” Weiss explained.
Finding it hard to verbally to describe the experience, Weiss said that one of the highlights of the ride was arriving in camp as a group of 300+ riders, to an enormous welcome and celebration, and to see, firsthand, the sincere appreciation of both campers and family members.
Avi Eisenberg initially got into cycling for exercise reasons approximately four years ago, but his involvement in Bike4Chai, and raising awareness in the Five Towns and beyond about Chai Lifeline and its mission turned bike riding into so much more. Describing it as “part of my life” Eisenberg explained that Bike4Chai “melds family, friends and business together.”
Echoing Weiss’ sentiments, Eisenberg said that ”the most remarkable point of riding into camp is to see the campers’ faces when they see and hear 300+ riders roll into camp. I thought we were giving to these kids, but they are really giving us more!”
For more information and donations to participants go to: chailifeline.org/events/Bike4Chai/index.php