Riding for the dawn

Yarden Frankl raises money by the seat of his pants, literally.

Yarden Frankl 521 (photo credit: COURTESY RON KINAMON)
Yarden Frankl 521
(photo credit: COURTESY RON KINAMON)
My Wife Has Cancer – And I’m Going for a Bike Ride’ is the attention-grabbing, emotion-provoking title of the October 12, 2012, blog entry written by 45-year-old avid blogger, biker and runner Yarden Frankl on his website “Crossing the Yarden” (www.crossingtheyarden.com). In June of 2011, Yarden’s wife Stella, also 45, was taken to a Jerusalem hospital for testing after experiencing unbearable stomach pain. Fearing it was something serious, doctors told the Frankls to cancel the US vacation they had planned to take with their four children.
Several days later, the family received the diagnosis: Stella had incurable late stage stomach cancer. Doctors immediately began aggressive chemotherapy.
Yarden says that when he received the news he felt helpless. “I wanted to do something to help Stella and our family situation,” he explains. So he turned to his passion: sports.
Since making the move to Israel with his family seven years ago, Frankl has successfully completed seven marathons and one grueling 52-km. “ultra-marathon.”
He has also ridden in five of the Alyn Orthopedic Hospital and Rehabilitation Center five-day Wheels of Love charity bike rides. He hadn’t ridden a bike seriously since he was on a racing team back in high school in New York, but he picked up the sport again with a passion after moving to Israel.
“I came up with the idea for an all night bike ride around my community of Neveh Daniel and throughout Gush Etzion, and asked friends and family members to sponsor the ride,” says Frankl. “I decided that the proceeds from the ride would go to the Gush Etzion Foundation to help fund our medical care and assist other cancer families in need of medical care.”
So one night last summer, starting at 6 p.m. and finishing 12 hours later, with breaks taken sparingly, Yarden biked 235 km. and raised approximately NIS 100,000 for the foundation. He had found a way to help many people from the seat of his bike.
At around the same time, despite the grim predictions, Stella’s body had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the treatments. The chemo worked so well that, in January, doctors were able to perform a radical operation, removing Stella’s stomach, gall bladder and some lymph nodes in an attempt to eliminate the remaining cancer.
The surgery was a success but some residual cancer remained, so it was back to chemotherapy. By the spring, scans showed that the cancer was completely gone and Stella was in remission. While she would need regular checkups since there was a chance that the cancer might one day return, the family was able to return to normal life.
After joyously celebrating their daughter’s bat mitzva, taking a trip on Passover and going on the previously canceled summer vacation to the US, the Frankls received bad news once again in September. Stella’s cancer had returned. Doctors immediately began a new regimen of a different type of chemotherapy, which Stella continues to undergo weekly with the hope that the cancer will once again disappear.
With the return of the illness, Yarden decided that “this time around I wanted to do something more to be involved in helping Stella. The cancer is doing something more, so I have to do something more.”
So utilizing his blog and social media outlets, he has been busy drumming up support for the most challenging bike ride of his life: a 260-km. trek, symbolically starting from the highest point in the country – the Golan – to the lowest point in the world – the Dead Sea – and then back up to the second-highest spot in Israel, his home of Neveh Daniel. The ride, expected to take between 12 and 13 hours, will take place place beginning at midnight on Friday, November 9.
Accompanying Frankl on his ride, which he has dubbed “Riding for the Dawn” – so named because it literally is a ride through the night, but also a call of hope for his wife to be given a clean bill of health – will be a van full of buddies as well as friends on scooters to shield him from the traffic, offer him water and encouragement, and pace him on the arduous 24-km. climb from the Dead Sea to Jerusalem.
The proceeds from this year’s ride will be earmarked toward Shaare Zedek Medical Center’s renowned oncology ward, where Stella has been receiving treatments.
Frankl says that his goal is to raise at least another NIS 100,000. He wants the money to go toward the purchase of “anything tangible in the oncology ward that will make the chemotherapy treatments for the patients a little bit easier.”
According to Marla Haruni, the deputy director of resource development and public affairs at Shaare Zedek, the hospital has already set up a page on its website telling Stella’s story. She adds that “Yarden is a person with unlimited and infectious energy. This is his way of thanking the hospital for taking good care of his wife and enabling other patients to receive quality care as well.”
Haruni adds that the website, which also allows supporters of Stella – dubbed “Stella’s Army” – to donate online, “has received a tremendous amount of traffic, with more and more generous donations coming in daily. People out there are truly identifying with Stella’s story. This must be something that touches everyone.”
Frankl is grateful to all those who have offered monetary donations as well as daily prayers, and says that it’s “touching to see how so many people from all over the world are getting involved, many of whom we don’t even know personally.” He has also ordered yellow bracelets with the words “Stella’s Army” on them, available online with proceeds benefitting the campaign.
He makes it clear that his upcoming bike ride is not a race, and in fact, he and his team will be stopping at 9 a.m. prior to the climb up to Jerusalem for morning prayers. “This is not just an athletic endeavor,” he says, “but I need to move the Earth through prayers and charity from around the world.”
While only an athlete of Frankl’s caliber would be willing to even attempt to ride a 264-km. all-night ride, Haruni says that “if I could ride with him, I would. We all want to be on Yarden’s team.”
According to Frankl in a recent blog post, “If you look up kindness in the dictionary, you will see Stella’s picture. If you look up modesty, there she is again. And if you look up compassion – once again it’s Stella. Just ask anyone who knows her and they will tell you that she is simply amazing. I basically won the lottery to have such a wife.
“And so many of these people are now desperate to try to help Stella as she struggles with what feels like a nonstop fight against a deadly disease. People are demanding to do something to try and help. And of all those people, I am at the top of the list of those who just need to do something to try and help her.
“Stella doesn’t like making trouble. She doesn’t speak badly of anyone. She is always willing to back off to preserve peace. She offers an amazing smile to everyone she meets. But that’s not me. Not even close.
“I get mad. I get pissed off. Someone zings me, despite the best efforts of my Rav [rabbi], I want to zing them back. And nothing has pissed me off more than the cancer that is attacking my wife. So what can I do? If I could cure cancer, I would. But I don’t have enough time to go to medical school and spend decades in a lab trying to create a new drug. I ride a bike. That’s what I do.”