Sheldon Pickholz of Englewood, 58, has been a serious cyclist since 1984. And he has worn a prosthetic leg since childhood.
Mr. Pickholz is a long-time supporter of Chai Lifeline, an international network providing emotional, social, and financial assistance to children with life-threatening and lifelong illnesses and their families. The organization honored him and his wife, Dena, around 20 years ago.
But until this summer, the timing never worked out to allow Mr. Pickholz to take part in Bike4Chai, a charity ride that has raised more than $50 million for Chai Lifeline over the past 10 summers.
Bike4Chai takes participants from Vernon, N.J., to Glen Spey, N.Y., the site of Chai Lifeline’s medically supervised Camp Simcha for children with chronic illnesses and disabilities.
This year’s Bike4Chai, the 11th annual ride, will include Mr. Pickholz among about 500 riders, more than 70 of them from Bergen and Rockland counties. Each must raise a minimum of $5,000 and can choose to ride an 80-, 100-, or 120-mile route.
While many Bike4Chai riders got into cycling specifically to participate in the charity ride, Mr. Pickholz says that cycling is a personal obsession.
For 30 years now, this Orthodox Jew has been riding his Cervelo or Colnago carbon-fiber bikes about 200 miles a week between Englewood and Bear Mountain-Harriman State Park. He’s done the Gran Fondo New York personal endurance challenge since its inception in 2010. When GFNY coincided with Shavuot one year, he completed the route by himself the week before.
“I get a lot of thumbs-up from people as I’m riding because it’s unusual to see a guy like me cycling up a mountain,” he said. “And I realize that when people see me riding with a prosthesis, it’s like free advertising for Chai Lifeline.”
He modestly takes credit for getting his friend Brian Haimm into cycling. Mr. Haimm, also of Englewood, is a board member of both Chai Lifeline and Bike4Chai and has participated in the ride since 2011. “He’s a tzadik for the work he does for Chai Lifeline,” Mr. Pickholz said.
Mr. Pickholz is not familiar with the topography of the Bike4Chai route, “but I think after cycling in Englewood for 30 years it probably won’t be steeper than that,” he said. “My goal is to finish with dignity.”
David Roher of Teaneck, 52, started riding with Bike4Chai in 2016. “Prior to 2006, I didn’t even own a bike,” he said. “But when my father had heart attack, I decided I needed to get in shape.”
He did that in a big way, training for the New York City triathlon. “I was horrible, but I did it, and I loved it,” he said. After a couple of years, he moved on to the Ironman, a triathlon that includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a 26.22-mile run. A year later, he became a certified triathlon coach.
A longtime teacher in regular and special education, Mr. Roher heard about Bike4Chai from fellow triathlete Shlomo Rosenzweig, and he signed up in 2016.
During the ride, he noticed JJ Eizik of Monsey making the trek on an adaptive handcycle; Mr. Eizik’s left leg was amputated due to cancer first diagnosed when he was 16. A former Camp Simcha camper, Mr. Eizik was determined as an adult to give back to the organization.
“I was inspired and impressed and curious,” Mr. Roher recalled. “I introduced myself to JJ and said, ‘You need a coach.’ At that point, his dream was completing the full route.”
To train Mr. Eizik properly, Mr. Roher consulted with experts, “because we were training arms to do what legs do,” as he put it. “Arm muscles are similar but smaller. And there’s a lot of pieces to the puzzle, including a nutritional component and a rest component.”
In 2018, Mr. Roher rode alongside Mr. Eizik at Bike4Chai. “He did the whole day, handcycling for 14 hours. Over the past two years, JJ’s cruising speed increased from 8 to 12 miles an hour.”
Mr. Roher has become the coach for the Knight Riders regional team headed by Mr. Eizik. (“The name is because we take so long to do the route, we finish at night,” he joked.) Other physically challenged cyclists are among his teammates.
“I work with them all year long, sometimes talking to each member as often as once a day,” Mr. Roher said. “It’s incredibly rewarding because we all have that moment in our lives when we were told we couldn’t do something. And once you do it, it’s empowering and addictive, and makes you feel there are no limits.”
As much as the Bike4Chai experience enriches the riders, of course, Chai Lifeline’s clients are the main beneficiaries of their efforts and the donor dollars they bring in. Since 2016, Mr. Roher has raised more than $40,000; he says one of his biggest contributors each year is Adam Steinberg of Zadie’s Kosher Bake Shop in Fair Lawn.
“It’s a beautiful thing we can do for the families of these children,” said Mr. Roher, who belongs to the Young Israel of Teaneck. “The only way to bring redemption is to care about other people.”
The caring extends to the riding family as well.
Bike4Chai’s director, Yoel Margolese, said that each 2020 Bike4Chai jersey will carry patches dedicated to the memory of Moshe Deutsch, a Bike4Chai volunteer killed in December’s Jersey City shooting, and to Yosef Klein, a six-time Bike4Chai cyclist who died of covid-19 in March.
Because of the pandemic, participants will set off from Vernon in staggered groups. When they arrive at the Glen Spey campsite, they will not find the usual overnight camp, which normally houses 450 campers from across the country spread over four sessions. This summer, it is operating as a day camp for children who live in commuting distance. There was a session for 65 girls earlier this summer; the Bike4Chai riders will arrive during a session for about 75 boys.
“This year, Chai Lifeline created Camp Simcha Without Borders,” Mr. Margolese said. “In addition to the campus in Glen Spey, a mini camp is being brought to campers in many cities across the country, to make sure every kid who would have come to camp will have at least a day or two of camp this summer, too.”
And although the women’s equivalent of Bike4Chai, Tour de Simcha, had to be canceled because of pandemic restrictions in July, a women’s “reunion ride” is scheduled for August 4. It will coincide with a Camp Simcha Without Borders day camp for girls in Deal. “It’s to keep the camaraderie going until we can do Tour de Simcha again,” Mr. Margolese said.