Over 700 cyclists put cleats to pedals to raise money for Chai Lifeline’s children and families in two separate events this summer.
Earlier this month, more than 500 men assembled at the Crowne Plaza in Stamford, CT, for the beginning of Bike4Chai. The two-day cycling tour has become the summer highlight cyclists who return year after year, competing with one another during training runs and fundraising appeals. They greeted each other with wide smiles and handshakes as they compared notes on both.
Later, at the pasta party, they prepared themselves for a grueling 110 mile ride the next day, to be followed by 65 or 75 miles (depending on the route chosen) before entering Camp Simcha.
Bike4Chai director Yoel Margolese explained that every year the ride is tweaked based on feedback from previous cyclists. “No matter how challenging we make it, there are those who say, ‘More hills’ or ‘harder hills’ and we try to oblige.”
If the men needed any more incentive to cycle hard (and they didn’t!), it came from Miriam Tokarsky, a Chai Lifeline client and Camp Simcha Camper. She described Camp Simcha as “her happy place,” and the weeks of camp as the only time she can be with friends who truly understand her.
Bike4Chai has become so well known on the charity bicycling circuit that it attracts several celebrity riders, including the Tour de France cyclist Cadel Evans, professional athletes like Mike Richter (NY Rangers), Amani Toomer (NY Football Giants), Tony Richardson (NY Jets) and members of the Israel Cycling Academy, Israel’s professional cycling team. But the real celebrities and heroes are the children of Camp Simcha who greet the bikers upon arrival and put medals around the necks of each cyclist.
Only a month before, Tour de Simcha, a day of extreme cycling for women, brought 219 pink and purple-clad bicyclists to “The World’s Greatest Finish Line,” the gates of Camp Simcha. The ride included 65 miles of hills and magnificent vistas and rest stops brimming food and energy drinks. But the emotional entry into camp, where the women alit from their bicycles and danced with the girls of Camp Simcha Special, was the high point for even the most ardent cyclists.
Inside a large tent the cyclists watched as two dancers circled each other gracefully. One was a ballet student whose illness has kept her from end-of-year recitals. The other was a friend who is confined to a wheelchair. Everyone’s attention was riveted on the two young dancers whose graceful pas-de-deux stopped hearts for a few beats. When they finished, the roar of the crowd could be heard throughout Camp Simcha.
“You kind of forget how hard the hills can be when you get to camp,” admitted one veteran cyclist. “This makes everything…the training and the fundraising…worthwhile.”
Rabbi Simcha Scholar noted that while both Tour de Simcha and Bike4Chai end at Camp Simcha, the money they raise funds Chai Lifeline activities all year long.
“Bike4Chai brings out the best in people. Cyclists are competing not to win but to motivate others to become involved in the work of Chai Lifeline. Knowing that so many people care about them inspires our kids and their families to keep going through the hills that they climb every day,” he said.