[VIDEO & PHOTOS IN EXTENDED ARTICLE]
Two hundred Bike4Chai cyclists rode triumphantly through the gates of Camp Simcha Special this afternoon amid the roars and cheers of 300 chronically ill and disabled campers and staff.
The group had many reasons to celebrate. They had just finished a challenging ride by anyone’s standards – 170 miles in two days. And they had raised almost $1.8 million for the children and families of Chai Lifeline and its Camp Simcha/Camp Simcha Special program.
This is the fourth year that Bike4Chai has made its way from the Jersey Shore to the Catskill Mountains. Each year the group has grown. It began with a counselor who decided to bicycle to Camp Simcha because the staff bus didn’t have room for his bicycle to an international group whose members traveled from Israel and Canada.
The camp had prepared its usual Camp Simcha Special welcome, crazy singing and dancing, as the cyclists entered the main road, but uncooperative weather forced a quick change of venue – into the camp’s indoor gym.
The cyclists were undaunted. They were tired and sweaty, elated and excited. As they gave their cycles to volunteers who loaded them onto waiting trucks, they joined hands and danced with joy. The thunder, lightning and heavy rains that greeted their arrival couldn’t dampen their spirits, even as Camp Simcha Special boys’ head counselor Ari Dembitzer implored one and all to make their way to the gym before the skies opened. Once inside the gym, they were re-energized by the vigor of the Camp Simcha Rollers, a troupe of wheelchair-confined campers, who performed their own dance for the group.
“This has been an amazing experience,” said a cyclist as he handed his bike to a volunteer. “At the end of the first day, after 100 miles, the guys were already talking about riding into camp. They couldn’t wait.”
Many of the veteran riders said the welcome was their inspiration for returning year after year.
“You see kids who face unbelievable challenges having a great summer at Camp Simcha Special and you want to be part of that,” remarked a cyclist.
The event took months to organize and required the logistics of moving a small army. The ride required permits and police cooperation in every municipality through which they passed. Every rest stop was fully stocked with snacks ranging from bananas to granola bars, and for those who like to stoke up on empty calories, cookies and donuts. Three SAG wagons and a medical corps followed the group. While Camp Simcha Special was looking forward to the visit, the Bike4Chai group essentially tripled the camp population for the afternoon. Bike4Chai organizers brought the riders’ “street clothes” and arranged for portable showers and rest rooms, and a catered barbecue. When the party ended, five buses transported the weary riders back to Lakewood, where their “normal” lives awaited.
Rabbi Simcha Scholar, Chai Lifeline’s executive vice president, and Shlomo Mayer, a member of the organization’s presidium, were on hand to witness the happy spectacle and personally thank the cyclists. “It’s a wonderful sight,” Rabbi Scholar smiled.
Now that the ride is over, the group is already planning for the 2013 ride. “We want to make it bigger and raise more money for the kids,” said a rider firmly. Asked if he will be back, he answered firmly, “No doubt.”
The cyclists had left, and the camp was slowly returning to normal when a young camper and counselor approached Rabbi Scholar. Around his neck was a cyclist’s medal, a bronze medallion on a bright Bike4Chai ribbon.
“Where did you get that?” Rabbi Scholar asked the child.
“One of the cyclists gave it to him,” the counselor answered.
Rabbi Scholar was awed. “That cyclist trained for months and just rode 170 miles. To be able to give a child the medal he got…to know that this child needed it and to be able to give it away…that’s really special. That’s what this is all about.”
YWN PHOTO LINK: Click HERE for Album #1, & Click HERE for Album #2 by Hillel & Yitzy Engel. [Click HERE for the first album of the bikers leaving New Jersey on Wednesday morning]
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(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)
great kiddush hashem! mazel tov to all the riders! they definitely deserve it!