Whichever way you look at it, the annual Alyn Hospital Charity Ride appears to be a success. Now in its 10th year, the event attracts hundreds of on-road and off-road riders of all levels of fitness, ages and walks of life, and brings in an impressive amount of funding that goes toward supporting the Ein Kerem children's hospital's day-to-day operations. Last year the ride raised close to $2.5 million, and the organizers expect a similar kitty this time around.
Naturally, as one of the country's veteran fund-raiser events on two wheels, when this year's Wheels of Love ride takes place - from Rosh Pina to Jerusalem between November 1 and 5 - there will be a police escort for the 300-plus riders and, just in case, an ambulance in attendance.
Particularly for road cyclists who wheel up and down the country's highways and byways throughout the year solo or in small groups, the Alyn five-dayer offers a once-a-year opportunity to enjoy a fully protected and highly organized mass ride. And, as for the past four years, the number of riders will swell considerably on the last day, with more than 650 bikers doing the last leg from Modi'in up some steep inclines through the Jerusalem Hills, ending up at the Alyn Pediatric and Adolescent Rehabilitation Center in Ein Kerem.
Over the years the ride's reputation has stretched far beyond the Middle East. This year cyclists will jet in, with their bikes, from eight countries, including the US, Sweden, France, South Africa, the UK and Holland.
Miha Pollak, 56, is one of 15 Dutch riders taking part this year,
and he and his compatriots are taking the event very seriously. "We have been training for this for the last six months," he says. "There are 13 road cyclists and two off-road cyclists in the group."
The Dutch team flew in over a week before the start of the ride to get acclimatized. "We want to get used to the heat and the roads," Pollak explains. "We don't have many hills in the Netherlands but we trained in the south, near Belgium. Mind you, we get strong winds in Holland, and that makes up for the lack of inclines." The Dutch team hopes to raise close to $45,000 for Alyn in the process.
The ride has come a long way since it first started in 2000. Back then just nine riders hit the road and raised $67,000 in donations. The number of participants increased steadily, then sharply from year to year up to its present level.
This year's event marks the ninth time 52-year-old Beirut-born British-educated Joe Djemal has ridden for Alyn. Djemal, who earns his crust as CEO of Terem Emergency Medical Centers - now a corporate sponsor of the ride - has seen a few changes over the years. "All the riders knew each other when we first started out," he recalls. "There were 28 cyclists on my first Alyn ride, but it has grown so much since then." Djemal adds that the event still retains a familial ambiance, quite literally. "My wife and three of my children have done the ride with me."
Atlanta-born David Arnovitch certainly identifies with the family element and has also chalked up some impressive Alyn mileage. "My first Alyn ride was in 2002. I actually started riding because of Alyn. One of the founder riders told me about it, and I got hooked. Mind you, it hasn't all been smooth sailing, or cycling. I had seven flats on that first ride," he recalls. "I had this hybrid bike then, and they didn't know what sort of inner tube to fit on it. People got a lot of laughs out of that, but it was all good fun for a good cause."
Arnovitch has already done the ride with two of his children, with his 15-year-old son on board this year.
Djemal says his Alyn-induced riding has not only allowed him
to raise funds for a worthy cause, but it has also enabled him to practice what he preaches during office hours. "Before I started riding, I was beginning to experience symptoms of health problems, such as high sugar levels and blood pressure. But cycling has sorted that out. As a family doctor, that has put me in the position to advise people about exercise. It's given me a lot of insight into exercise in general and how much good it can do you."
Ze'ev Moskovitch, 40, who will take part in the last day of this year's event for the second year in a row, is an example of the latter. The ride also provides him with an opportunity to give something back to an institution that helped him regain his health over a lengthy period of rehabilitation. When he was 11 years old he developed a growth in his left leg and was hospitalized at Alyn. "My parents only told me a couple of years ago that the doctors had considered amputating my leg," says Moskovitch. "I was in a full body cast for months. That was really tough."
Ultimately, a decision was made to do some bone grafts rather than an amputation. Despite his almost complete incapacitation Moskovitch began dreaming about cycling. "I'd race up and down the hospital corridors in my bed," he recalls." I was a young boy full of energy. I had to do something with it." But at the time, the doctors ruled out any possibility of his cycling. A couple of years ago, on a visit to South Africa with a Jewish Agency Partnership 2000 delegation, Moskovitch met Erez Ezrahi, an international cyclist and director of the Alyn bike ride. That kindled Moskovitch's interest in the ride, but he was still under the impression that for him cycling was a no-no.
That was until he went to see Israel Cycling Federation chairman Dr. Yoni Yarom. "When I asked him if he thought I could ride, he said I had to ride to strengthen my knees," says Moskovitch. "Now my knees and the rest of my legs are strong. I am really looking forward to this year's Alyn ride."
"There have been some wonderful stories over the years," adds Ezrahi. "One year a guy came over from the States to ride. On the second day, when we were near Tiberias, he got an emergency phone call and had to fly back to New York right away. He sorted the problem out and flew back in time to do the fifth day of the ride. There's a wonderful atmosphere on the ride and, of course, it's all for the children at the hospital."
At the end of the five days, all the riders will receive medals from the children at Alyn. "That's always a moving experience," says Ezrahi, "for riders and patients alike."
For more information: www.alyn.org.il