Orli Tal is an extremely active woman with a hectic lifestyle. In addition to working full-time as a computer programmer, the 45-year-old is a devoted athlete and an enthusiastic bike rider. She is also blind.
In order to enjoy her love of cycling and enable other blind riders to take advantage of the sport, Tal founded the Jerusalem-based Tandem Israel seven years ago, a group of 10 blind riders who together with their seeing partners explore the side roads of Israel in the manner only mountain bike riders can.
The first group for blind bike riders was founded in 1990 by Etgarim ("Challenges" in Hebrew), a non-profit organization that provides disabled people in Israel with the opportunity to practice outdoor sports.
"Actually, it was me who put pressure on Etgarim to form the group in Jerusalem by constantly calling their offices," said Tal. "Later on, when the group was finally established, I was the one to coordinate our trips, making sure every blind rider would have a seeing partner with him."
However, two years later, Tal and some other group members felt unsatisfied with the organization’s rate of activity and decided to form an independent group that would ride on a more frequent basis.
"Etgarim supplied us with Tandem bicycles, but obviously we needed to have our own Tandems in order to launch independent trips. However, it took a while until I persuaded all of the group’s members to invest in buying their own bikes," she said.
"Gradually, the group was assembled and this time we were simply friends sharing the same ‘bicycle fever.’ Some were previously members of the initial Etgarim group, and the rest were personal acquaintances of mine."
Tandem Israel member Inbal, 30, a computer programmer from Kiryat Anavim, lost her eyesight in a road accident when she was a high school student. Just like Tal and the rest of the blind group members, she lives her life without letting her blindness be an obstacle. Inbal is a graduate of Hebrew University and Hadassah College, where she studied computer programming. She says that she’s always been involved in sports.
"At Hebrew University I learned from other blind students about the Etgarim group and there I met Orli, who became a good friend of mine," she says. "Although it was fun riding with the Etgarim group, we always felt unequal to the seeing riders who volunteered to ride with us. On the other side, Tandem Israel is all about friendship. Here I made my two best friends and met my husband, who joined the group as a seeing bike rider. It’s a truly unique bunch of people, and when we go out for a two-day ride, everybody joins the effort. The seeing members of the group are not ‘volunteers’ but equal members of the group with the same rights and obligations," she declares.
Inbal said that the rides with Tandem Israel enable her to experience a feeling of freedom where she "can feel nature all around me. It doesn’t resembles anything else," she says.