(Lubavitch.com) Ten bikers, observant Jews all, will pedal for a cause this summer across the country, as they raise awareness and support for special needs children.
“Bike 4 Friendship” will take ten Jewish men, all donning yarmulkes andtzitzit (ritual fringes) on a 3,279 mile journey across the continent to benefit Friendship Circle International, a humanitarian project that pairs teen volunteers with special needs children.
The bikers will set out on Sunday, July 1 2012 from Los Angeles with a kickoff event in which local supporters will be able to bike alongside the cross-country riders for a portion of the journey. Averaging 85 miles a day, the bikers will visit Friendship Circles in many cities, some of who have organized ride-along events to coincide with their time in the city.
Mendel Groner, who heads Friendship Circle’s development department and helped organize this trip, views the biking adventure as not only platform for awareness, but an opportunity to unite Friendship Circle communities—there are hundreds of them—across the United States and the world.
“We have participants flying in from all across the US, Israel, the UK and even Australia. The trip has been a real draw for people. Biking across the country in general has that ‘wow!’ factor and here the cyclists are not your typical prototypes. Every cyclist is a religious Jew, some Yeshiva students, some college students, some dads even, who all believe in the Friendship Circle’s message and want to undertake this incredible physical endeavor in order to make a difference in lives of special needs kids.”
It won’t be the first time that yeshiva students bike for a cause. Last year three rabbinical students had the idea to put their biking hobby to work for fundraising and for an awareness campaign.
“It’s been pretty cool to watch how this idea of theirs - which started as a conversation in a pizza shop in Jerusalem - has grown into this massive ride.” Groner said. “Since their story got out there we have seen a tremendous response. So many other people have contacted us wanting to participate in some way. It’s on every cyclist’s bucket list to bike across the country and it’s motivating for people to link this huge achievement to a higher purpose.”
Charlie Hafner, of West Orange, New Jersey, a 55-year-old bike enthusiast who helped plan the trip and will be one of the 10 participating cyclists, sees this opportunity as way to combine his longtime hobby with his beliefs.
“Last year I did a 150 mile bike ride. But riding across country –it is a fascinating thing to see America in that way!” said Hafner, who welcomed the opportunity to join this event. “My family has always been involved with Friendship Circle in Metrowest, Livingston and has been touched by kids with special needs in many ways. My wife and I are very proud that each of our kids has volunteered with the Friendship Circle. This was the perfect opportunity for me to give back.”
Hafner has been training since last fall, on and off, through several injuries. Although he has not yet met the other riders, he has been in touch with some regarding training techniques, different biking strategies, and fundraising tips. Each rider is required to raise a minimum of $5,000.
“There are particular concerns for this kind of long-haul trip. We will try to eliminate flat tires although those are inevitable. We are concerned about the heat factors and the varied landscapes as we will be biking through deserts, mountains and the plains of the Midwest. We are also conscious of hydration and the amount and type of calories we need. The human being is the engine of a bike and needs to be fine-tuned carefully.”
But besides for the physical aspects there is also a level of mental strength needed.
“One of the most amazing things about biking across country is breaking through limitations,” Groner remarked. “It’s what we do here in the Friendship Circle every day - breaking through the differences to unite people.”
The bikers are set to arrive in New York City on Friday August 17th 2012 with a celebratory final ride of 20 miles from New Jersey to Manhattan in which anyone is welcome to join.
“While this ride is a lifetime dream for me, seeing the beauty of America while going cross-country and all, it is dwarfed by the great work done by Friendship Circle staff and volunteers,” Hafner said.
“Their accomplishments are truly reflected in their motto, ‘Recognizing Abilities, Celebrating Differences.’”