The luggage-handlers at Ben-Gurion International Airport saw an increase in the number of bicycles coming in and out, as an expected 500 participants from 12 countries arrived to participate in the five-day “Wheels of Love” 2019 charity bike ride, with as many as 125 riders joining from the United States alone. The ride, this year celebrating its 20th anniversary, raised much-needed funds for Israel’s only pediatric rehabilitation hospital: ALYN Hospital Pediatric and Adolescent Rehabilitation Center in Jerusalem.
This year’s event took place from Nov. 10 to Nov. 14, with different routes beginning and ending all over the Jewish state.
The ride was started by a group of nine people in Israel who used to live in New York, Denver, Chicago and London. They first peddled from Jerusalem to Eilat in the year 2000, procuring $65,000 for the hospital.
That year not only marked the first charity ride, but also the start of the Second Intifada and the burst of the dot.com industry in the United States. As such, there were some very underemployed tour guides and business people in Israel with the time to devote to organizing such an endeavor.
“We were all surprised by the success of the first ride,” said Steve Zerobnick, one of the original participants. “We raised far more than I ever envisioned. Given this success, it seemed to me that we had a responsibility to try and replicate it, and grow the ride. Figuring out how to run the ride was complicated, but because I work in tourism and the Second Intifada made my business suffer, I had a lot of time to work to experiment.”
In 2001, the bike ride had grown to 47 participants. It was organized and implemented by the Ride Organizing Committee made up of the original participants. As the event expanded, committee members would ride the route ahead of time to make sure that Israel’s often rough roads and terrain were doable for the average person.
Chaim Zlotogorski, originally from New York, recalled that “after the second ride, I think we understood that it had significant potential. There were a few of us who are startup people and understood that if we focused on the ‘product’ as we would in a business and delivered the best product possible, we could be successful.”
By 2002, the ride saw double the number of participants.
Two decades later, that figure has grown to 500, many of whom are return riders. Six parallel routes are now offered, each one crafted differently depending on the type of cycling road or trail and the level of difficulty.
One route allows for leisurely cycling in the morning and visiting interesting tourist sites in the afternoon, while another, the “Challenge Route,” has cyclists peddling more than 130 kilometers (about 80 miles) daily, with steep, long mountain climbs.
There is even a non-bike trail for friends and spouses who prefer their own two feet rather than two wheels.
This was the third year that Boston resident David Levenfeld went along for the ride. “The sense of camaraderie, the personal challenge of the physical aspects of the ride, and the unmatched way to see and visit Israel, are the reasons that bring me back again,” he said. “To see literally hundreds of people from all over the world come together in support of the same cause amazes me.”
ALYN is Israel’s only pediatric rehabilitation hospital and a world leader in the field of rehabilitation of children with a wide range of physical disabilities, in which multidisciplinary expertise has been developed in rehabilitative treatment of children and youth. In addition to the range of advanced rehabilitation services, the hospital, which was founded 85 years ago, has recently inaugurated a groundbreaking innovation center, ALYNovation, for adapting solutions and developing technological accessories for the children.
Hospital staff regularly treat children from overseas and advise medical institutions worldwide on treatment and care, as well as on innovative solutions developed at ALYN.
“We have a unique approach to the treatment of children with disabilities,” said Dr. Maurit Beeri, director general of ALYN. “Our hope is that every child reaches their maximum development potential, and we believe that advanced medicine is just the beginning.”
“Medicine must partner with rehabilitation therapy, family support and a fair chance to education if we are to succeed in providing a child with a future of possibilities,” she explains. “This partnership is afforded to us by the annual ‘Wheels of Love.’ The funds raised allow us to give the children the treatments and therapies they require, rather than limit the care to the basic needs that are covered by the Israeli national health-care system. Every additional penny goes toward additional therapists, a wider selection of emotional support modalities, innovative interdisciplinary projects and extra hands-on care.”
This year, the event was expected to bring in $3 million with riders raising money independently or as part of a team.
Edward Joyce, a resident of New York City’s Upper West Side Manhattan and captain of The Grumpy Roasters — a team of 21 that started out in New York — is quick to rave about his experiences.
“We all support and encourage each other for a common cause and have a great time,” he said. “The last day when we cycle onto the ALYN Hospital grounds is tremendously emotional. Upon finishing, you are elated to have completed such a rigorous endeavor, and when you see the kids that are waiting for you at the end of the race, you realize that what you have done pales in comparison to their accomplishments, and the drive they have day in and day out.” JN