Cycle of love

Sponsored cycler, Matan Saville. (photo credit: GILAD FILBER)
Sponsored cycler, Matan Saville.
(photo credit: GILAD FILBER)
What could be more corporeally energizing and spiritually uplifting than engaging in sustained, communal physical exercise, and all for an indisputably excellent cause? In recent years there has been a proliferation of fund-raising sporting events, for all kinds of worthy causes, up and down the country.
The logic is clear. In general, we seem to be more disposed to the idea of parting with some of our hard-earned cash for the benefit of those less fortunate than ourselves when the petitioners are willing to make a clear effort in return. The proof of the greenback-generating exercise is there to be counted and allocated.
Sponsored cycle rides seem to be leading the way, the doyen of which is the annual Wheels of Love event run by the Alyn children’s hospital and rehabilitation center in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood.
The 18th edition of the ride will take place October 29 to November 2, with close to 500 hardy cyclists from 15 countries wheeling their way along highways, byways and trails around the country, starting at the Lavi Forest in the Lower Galilee and ending at the hospital.
The on- and off-road rider roster also includes quite a few enthused souls from outside the country, and some of the heaviest duty donation collectors hail from the United States and Canada. Alyn is looking to raise $3 million this year, and at the time of writing they were just over half way to the target.
Since its inception, the charity ride has grown and grown in terms of kilometers pedaled, participants’ geographic homelands, and monies obtained for the hospital. Over the years, the age spread has also achieved impressive parameters. A few years back an 82-yearold doctor from the States pedaled the full five-day stint.
The generational span also takes in youngsters, and this year’s two-wheeler roll call features at least two teenagers – 16-year-old Gush Etzion resident Matan Saville and 13-year-old Alon Lipsker from Modi’in.
The latter will be accompanied by his 40-something parents, Pnina and Eitan, both of whom have been riding the Wheels of Love for a while. “I got into it five years ago,” says Pnina.
Eitan is a veteran of 12 rides. “I was a mountain biker, and then I started with triathlons and I officially made the move to on-road cycling.”
The Lipskers belong to a small synagogue community in their hometown, which is well represented in the Alyn lineup. “We have five or six members taking part in the ride,” Pnina explains.
“We have a couple who are in their fifth year of the ride, and we have another friend who belongs to a different community, but he has also been bitten by the Alyn bug.” Today, Pnina is one of the few female riders who do the tough Challenge route.
Having taken part in the one-day ride several times over the years, I have witnessed a heartwarming sense of camaraderie among the cyclists, many of whom accumulate stirring individual and collective experiences on the first four days of the cross-country ride.
Pnina Lipsker says it is a win-win situation for all concerned. “It is very moving when you get to Alyn at the end. I didn’t think I would break down when I got there. For a few years I’d just go there to pick up my husband, and it didn’t move me too much. But when you get there after doing the ride yourself, it is a truly amazing feeling. It’s the real deal.”
The triathlete says she sometimes has to explain her motives for doing the ride.
“People ask me why I raise money for a hospital. They say a hospital is government- supported, so why do I need to help raise funds for it? I tell them that all we are trying to do is to enable the Alyn kids to live the life of a child, to allow them to live as full and as an active a life as possible. They deserve that.”
The teen Saville can certainly identify with that, knowing both sides of the Wheels of Love. A couple of years ago he got involved in some playful rough-and-tumble at school, which got a little out of hand.
The then 14-year-old ended up on his back with severe concussion, followed by continuing chronic pain in his shoulders.
“I went to a doctor and did physiotherapy, but it didn’t help much,” he recalls. Things began to look up when another doctor recommended he try his luck at Alyn. “We went there to see what the place was about, and I started going there for therapy three or four days a week.”
Happily, six months later, Saville was back up to full speed again, but after experiencing the Alyn story himself, he saw how the doctors, practitioners and caregivers make the ones who really matter – the youngsters – benefit. “Every time I went for a treatment, I knew it would be tough, but I saw kids in a much worse state than me, and they faced up to it with real courage,” he says. “That often gave me the strength to keep on going.”
It was about more than just getting back on his own two feet, in a physical sense. “To begin with I didn’t make much progress, but after the department head had a chat with me, I began to feel I was making progress on a daily basis.”
Saville is now able to express his appreciation for the physical and emotional help he received at Alyn by helping to keep the place going. “This will be my second Wheels of Love ride,” he notes proudly. “I am so happy I am able to give something back now. Without Alyn I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
The teenager says the benefits are ongoing. “For me, cycling is like constant therapy. If I feel annoyed or out of sorts, I just get on my bike and work it all off.”
He also likes the fact that Alyn administers the same amount of love and care to all the children it takes in, regardless of ethnic, national or socioeconomic background.
“The doctors give everything so that we, the children, can have a better life,” he states. “It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you come from. Everyone there gives their all for you.”
Saville happily relates the tale of his own rehabilitation to all and sundry, but he is particularly fond of one incident that occurred while he was still a hospital patient. “I met a cyclist when I was still in rehabilitation.
“As he was coming down the slope on his bike to the hospital [at the end of a Wheels of Love ride], I thanked him and I told him I couldn’t possibly put into words how grateful I was to him, for riding five days and raising money for us. He told me there was no need to thank him and that I was the real hero.
“He said we were the strong ones. Now I am on Wheels of Love, and I know exactly what he meant. I looked at him and I thought, next year I’ll be cycling, too.”
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