jlink
Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Brian Haimm of Englewood called it the “two best days of summer.”

Teaneck’s Howard Wietschner said it was a “simply exhilarating” experience.

The two riders were among 500 who participated in the August 3-4 Bike4Chai event raising $6.8 million for Chai Lifeline’s Camp Simcha, a place where children with cancer or other blood disorders can spend the summer enjoying camp activities like any other Jewish child.

The ride got its start in 2009 with one heroic rider. Dovid Egert, a Camp Simcha volunteer, raised some $10,000 when he rode 135 miles by himself in what he called a “day and change” from his Lakewood home.

“I’ve been a biker all of my life,” Egert, 29, told The Jewish Link. “It just all came together.”

He said that it is different riding with hundreds of other participants, because there is a set course to follow. When he started his first sponsored ride, he decided which roads and directions to take to get to Camp Simcha safely.

Melanie Kwestel, Chai Lifeline’s director of communications, said that the organization had to “hold” the number to 500 riders this year. There is actually a waiting list. Because of the ever-increasing numbers through the years, the ride has expanded to 180 miles, with a start at Stamford, CT, on day one to Vernon, NY. Then, from Vernon, on day two, the group travels 70 miles to Camp Simcha in Glen Spey, NY.

“The guys who are on the top end of this group are competitive with one another,” said Kwestel. “They are competitive in fundraising as they are in business.”

The ride’s finish line is called “The World’s Greatest Finish Line.”

“They are greeted by the campers of Camp Simcha and given medals,” continued Kwestel. “It’s very emotional with a lot of singing and dancing.”

Kwestel added that in addition to the campers and Camp Simcha staff, riders are joined by family members as well.

Haimm, who was the event’s top daily fundraiser with $25,000 said, “It’s the ultimate high. When you come into the camp and everyone’s cheering, that we can put a smile on someone’s face is priceless. There’s a chill going through your body.”

Haimm said that he never experienced anything similar to the event. “With the help of God, we managed to do this. It was the two best days of the entire summer.”

Last year, the ride attracted 430 riders and raised $5.9 million.

Howard Wietschner of Teaneck, a self-described “regular” of the Bike4Chai, said that “every year is different. You keep coming up with a deeper sense of appreciation of the love for these kids. It never gets old, just more meaningful. You can’t imagine what goes on at that finish line.”

Earlier in the summer, 200 women rode 70 miles and raised $954,585.