By 5TJT Staff
The AK Riders Team, from Woodmere, left the New York winter behind when they headed into the November sun in Israel to complete the 20th Wheels of Love bike ride that raises much needed funds for Israel’s only pediatric rehabilitation hospital — ALYN.
David Waltuch has been a resident of Woodmere for the last 30 years, and together with Yitzy Meyer, David Glickman, David Bugayer, and Ben Cohen, all from Woodmere, as well as Ricardo Goldschmidt from Valley Stream, he joined 500 participants from all over the world on the five-day bike ride from November 10–14.
There were six routes offered to riders this year on the Wheels of Love, including trail and off-road routes as well as a more leisurely route. The AK riders chose an on road route designed for cyclists fit enough to ride 7–8 hours a day, and covered an average distance of 70–100 km per day for five consecutive days!
During the first four days, the AK riders enjoyed challenging road routes and spectacular scenery of the Galilee in northern Israel. On the final day, they climbed the Jerusalem Hills and together with a full police escort, they entered the hospital’s grounds where they were given a hero’s welcome from the children of ALYN, the hospital staff, and their friends and families who gathered to pay tribute to their extraordinary efforts.
One of the patients who rode this year was Meital Weiss. Meital will be celebrating her bat mitzvah in a couple of weeks and marked it by taking to the road on her hand bike . Meital was 10 months old when a tumor was discovered in her spine, causing paralysis from the waist down. Metial’s mother, Atara, who made aliyah from Far Rockaway, brought her back to Sloan Kettering for surgery on her first birthday, and they lived in Far Rockaway following the surgery.
At the age of 18 months, Meital was brought back to Israel and rehabilitated in ALYN for a period of four months. Ever since, Meital has been under the watchful medical eye of ALYN, with regular check-ups at the hospital. Her ALYN physiotherapist suggested that she join the Swift and Bold hospital team. “We decided to decorate her helmet with a glittery 12 in honor of her bat mitzvah,” says Weiss. “We see it as a real reason to celebrate. We are privileged to give back to ALYN Hospital. The staff has done so much for us over the years that we feel indebted to the hospital and its superb staff. Riding in Wheels of Love is our small way of saying a tremendous thank you.”
Ben Cohen, the team’s captain, describes the experience. “Going to ALYN’s Wheels of Love is like going to camp for adults for a week. You get to see people you have not seen in a year to share a special experience.” He reflects more seriously on the impact of the ride and his emotions as he cycles into the hospital on the last day where all riders receive medals from the patients of ALYN. “Coming into Alyn on the last day of riding is a very exhilarating yet humbling experience. You have just completed five days of riding, accomplishing, and overcoming many obstacles and then you see the kids who, every day of their lives, wake up to greater challenges. And they are giving us medals!”
It was the 10th time for team member David Waltuch to participate and as such he received a special jacket at the gala reception evening. “Getting to know the work that ALYN Hospital does for all the children is now my inspiration. For the last few years we have had the chance to ride on the road with children who have been patients at ALYN and now are inspired by us to get out and ride a bike. To know that we not only raise money to help the children with their treatment but also that we have directly inspired some of their physical accomplishments has created a bond with ALYN Hospital that keeps me coming back every year.”
The goal of the campaign this year was to raise $3 million for the children of ALYN Hospital in Jerusalem. “The funds raised allow us to give the children additional therapists, a wider selection of emotional support modalities, innovative interdisciplinary projects, and extra hands-on care,” says Dr. Maurit Beeri, director of the ALYN Hospital.
Each of the members has their own fundraising goal but together the AK Riders raised over $45K for the hospital. “It has been a real privilege that people from the community have donated and supported us,” says Cohen.