Wheeling and feeling

Wheeling and feeling

There is little more heart-wrenching than children with cancer, and little more gratifying than doing whatever you can to help those children and their families.

There is little more fulfilling to bike riders than a long, hilly, late-summer two-day ride on a challenging course.

But cycling often can be a solitary, if not solipsistic sport; the gratification is purely inner, having to do almost entirely with self.

So when it is tied to fundraising for children with cancer – when it draws more than 300 riders to a 175-mile ride, which so far this year has raised more than $2 million for Camp Simcha – it reaches an entirely new level.

Brian Haimm powers along the route of the Bike4Chai challenge.

Bike4Chai, which this year began on Wednesday and ended on Thursday, takes riders from Asbury Park to Glen Spey, N.Y., where they cross what is called “the world’s greatest finish line.” It’s at Camp Simcha, an overnight camp for children and teenagers with cancer and other serious illnesses. The camp is run by Chai Lifeline, whose mission, the organization says, is “to bring joy to seriously ill children’s lives and hope to their families.”

Dovid Egert of Lakewood is one of the ride’s founders; in 2009, he was its first and only rider, raising $10,000; since then, it has raised more each year, breaking the $1 million mark last year (and by a wide margin; that race brought in $1,887,000).

Egert, who is now 26, has been involved in the camp as a volunteer since he was 15. The race’s origin can be traced back to his desire to bring his bike to camp in 2009. He wanted to take the train, but the train did not allow bikes. Mark Edelstein, who was then a chaplain at camp, told Egert that he would buy him a new road bike if he actually did cycle to camp on his mountain bike. “I said I’d make it there, by hook or by crook,” Egert said.

He did. He raised money for that ride – including from then Gov. Jon Corzine, who was speaking at nearby Toms River. “I walked over to him, and said, ‘I’m doing a bike ride. Will you sponsor me? I got a check from him. And it cleared!'” Egert said.

The ride grew from there.

Is it hard to make the ride? The distance is long and the course is not for casual riders. It demands serious athleticism. Still, “It’s not as hard as being a kid with cancer,” Egert said. “When the ride is over, it’s over, but these campers are still going to have cancer.”

Brian Haimm of Englewood is the chief financial officer of a private equity fund. He is also “an avid cycler,” he said. This year’s Bike4Chai ride is his third.

“Cycling can be a selfish event, but there is something special about having a goal and helping someone with it,” he said.

He noted that although giving tzedakah is a profoundly Jewish action, the camp “doesn’t cater just to Jews. It’s for everyone.”

He is struck by the opposites the ride embodies. “When you are riding to behealthy yourself, and to help the children, and when you get there, at the finish line, the kids are giving back to you – it’s an extremely humbling experience.

“The ride is a great personal achievement, but when you’re also doing it for other people, it’s a lot more fulfilling.”

Haimm found the ride to be even more personally fulfilling than he had expected, in a way bringing him full circle in his own life.

The first time he rode to Camp Simcha, he got lost in the camp, and ended up wandering over to the basketball court. There, “I looked up and saw that the court had been donated in memory of my best friend, who died during my childhood.

“I had no idea it was there.”

His friend, Scott Satren, of Oceanside, N.Y., died of cancer at 21 in 1987.

“It was as if he was thanking me for my efforts to help the children in the camp,” Haimm said. “I have now dedicated all of my rides in memory of my friend Scott.”

More information about the ride, about Camp Simcha, and about Chai Lifeline is at www.chailifeline.org

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