Alyn Bike Ride 2008

November 24, 2016 22:49

I’ve often been in Jerusalem when heads of state are visiting Israel and watched as roads are cleared of traffic just for them. Last Sunday, police cleared the path during Jerusalem’s rush hour for the car I was traveling in, but I wasn’t in a convoy of limos on my way to a presidential powwow with Peres; I was with Brenda Hirsch, director of PR and resource development at Alyn hospital. We were being ushered by a cop on a motorbike, VIP-style, towards the sea of around 500 yellow-shirted cyclists who had already set off on the 2008 Alyn bike ride from Jerusalem’s Malha mall.

Alyn Hospital is one of the world’s leading specialists in the active and intensive rehabilitation of children and adolescents who have been injured in terror attacks or road accidents, or who are suffering from congenital or neuromuscular ailments. The Alyn ride came into being in 2000 when nine Israeli riders, including Laurence, organised a ride from Jerusalem to Eilat in aid of the hospital, raising $45,000.

The ride has since become an annual event and to date hundreds of riders have come specially from overseas (which was particularly remarkable during the intifada years when hardly anyone was visiting Israel) and millions of dollars have been raised for Alyn. The ride is now a huge operation and the original concept has expanded to include options of on- or off-road rides, as well as a one-day ride.

Laurence was among last Sunday’s yellow-shirted riders. An avid cyclist, he’d never missed an Alyn five-day ride - until last year when he had just been injured on one of his regular Friday morning off-road training rides. As soon as he began to recover from the injury, he asked his doctors when (not if) he could ride again. Soon after getting the medical all-clear a few months ago, he got back on his bike. I’m always being asked: “How can you let him ride?”, as if there is anything, short of incarcerating him in the loft or vandalising his bike, I can really do to stop him. I worry when he’s out riding, of course, but he assures me that he is taking it very gently.

When he asked what I thought about him doing “just” the 125 km one-day road ride from Jerusalem to Beersheva, I admit I wasn’t wild about the idea, but I could see he was determined, and I know how much the Alyn ride means to him.

I’m a non-cyclist, so joining him on the ride in order to be reassured throughout the day that he was OK wasn’t an option. Instead I accepted Brenda’s offer to join her and the team of Alyn staff and volunteers who accompany the ride by car. I was a bit concerned about how Laurence would cope with the particularly steep climb from Nahal Sorek to the first pit stop at Bar Giora, and it was great to see for myself that he was fine.

It was fascinating to observe the ride in action while embedded in Brenda’s car. The logistics are mind-boggling: the food and dink at the pit stops; the liaison with the policemen who are there throughout the five days of the ride; the medical backup; the technical support - to name just some aspects of the ride that have to be organised down to the last detail. This year a special request on day three of the ride by 35 Jerusalemites for transport to and from Jerusalem so they could vote in the municipal election was accommodated.

The road riders reached Beer Sheva on Sunday afternoon. Once again, the city’s main street was closed to traffic, and local residents waved good-naturedly to the riders as they came through. We returned to Jerusalem from Beer Sheva on Sunday evening by coach with the other one-day riders. It had been a fantastic day.

On Thursday Laurence and I went to Jerusalem again to join the welcoming party at Alyn for five-day riders. At a special ceremony, Brenda read out the this year’s statistics: in addition to the very large contingent from Israel, riders came from Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Holland, Mexico, Britain, Canada and the USA. So far, $1,428,000 has been raised and although that amount should increase by at least another third when the riders have collected all their sponsorship money, it is below the anticipated target. Times are tough, and fundraising is only going to get tougher.

Standing at the party, surrounded by Alyn’s young patients in their wheelchairs and hundreds of bike riders, I thought of that uphill climb to Bar Giora on the first morning of the ride, and the relief I felt when Laurence arrived safely at the pit stop. The children and young people at Alyn hospital face a relentless uphill challenge, day after day. How richly they deserve our support.

November 24, 2016 22:49

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