For most of us, if we walk 3,000 steps, we consider it a good day. Now imagine biking 180 miles over the course of just two days. Now imagine being a cancer survivor several times over and biking 180 miles over the course of just two days. And now imagine covering those 180 miles over the course of just two days on a hand cycle (similar to a bicycle but operated by your hands).
JJ Eizik doesn’t need to imagine these achievements. This is his reality. For the past five years he has participated in Chai Lifeline’s Bike4Chai. This year, thanks to coaching by Ironman David Roher, JJ will be going into his sixth Bike4Chai in the best shape he’s ever been in and with a targeted plan for crossing the finish line with everyone else.
When he was just 16 years old, JJ was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in his left femur. Initially he underwent chemotherapy, but the cancer returned a year later. When traditional treatments still failed to rid his body of the cancer, he underwent an above-the-knee amputation. After his body had healed, his family contacted the Challenged Athletes Foundation. As their website says: “No challenge is too great with the right support. That’s why our goal is to provide physically challenged people with the tools they need to pursue active and healthy lifestyles. We advocate for all levels of physical activity as a way to enhance quality of life for all.”
The first time JJ’s family reached out to them was for a grant for a prosthetic leg for running/jogging. Two years later JJ learned about hand cycling through the Helen Hayes Hospital Adaptive Sports & Recreation program. Once he determined which style he was comfortable with, his father reached out to the foundation again and they paid for a grant for the hand cycle.
JJ shared with The Jewish Link, “The night before my amputation, a friend who is also an amputee drove all the way from Long Island to my house in Monsey to talk to me. He told me, ‘You can do anything you want. Nothing limits you and you will be able to adapt.’ Being a camper at Chai Lifeline, this message was instilled into all of us. My main reason for doing this is to inspire the incredible campers at Camp Simcha, their counselors or anybody going through treatment or facing any type of challenge. I want them to know that they can overcome anything in their lives. Chai Lifeline helped me get back on my feet and helped me in so many different ways with things I didn’t even realize I needed. I was diagnosed three more times and was in and out of treatment for nearly nine years. The amazing counselors and volunteers at Chai Lifeline helped me so much. So my taking part in Bike4Chai is my way of giving back.”
JJ recalls that it was during his second-to-last year as a camper at Camp Simcha that Bike4Chai started. The last year he was a camper he was asked to speak to the riders the night before the race. JJ had already started hand cycling by then and he led the riders onto the course and rode 8 miles with a dear friend. “That’s when I decided that I would do it.” The next year he biked 70 miles on Day 1 but none on Day 2. By the third year he could complete the entire Day 1 and part of Day 2. “Every year I do a little more,” JJ said. “This is my sixth year and I hope, with David’s help, to complete the whole ride.”
Two years ago, Roher, an accomplished athlete who has successfully competed in competitions such as the Ironman triathlon, the NYC Marathon and more, participated in Bike4Chai. As he told The Jewish Link, “On the second day I noticed a guy hand cycling. About halfway through the ride he fell too far behind and he had to get in the van and they transported him to the end at the camp. I went over and asked if he had a coach and he said no. I figured he did what most athletes do, which is ‘I’ll go as far and as fast as I can,’ but that’s not an effective way to train your body to increase its ability to withstand muscle fatigue and increase endurance.”
Roher would know, since he’s a certified coach and has worked previously with other hand cyclists. JJ, determined to complete the course, agreed, and at the end of last summer, the two started working together. Roher developed a training regimen with specific benchmarks that JJ could meet even during the winter months.
“Once a week I’d email him a training schedule and I’d check to see how he was doing and we’d calibrate so that he trained safely and would not injure himself. I’d also make sure JJ was keeping himself properly hydrated. It was equally important that JJ stretched regularly to maintain his range of motion. We’ve had to be very conscious of the difference between hand cycling and leg cycling. The muscles in the arms are much smaller than the muscles in the legs.” Since JJ’s situation is so unique, Roher reached out to his former coaching instructor, Olympic coach Justin Trolle.
“In the seven years I’ve been coaching, I’ve worked with many athletes and I am in awe of his determination,” reflected Roher. “I’ll be biking alongside JJ the entire time this year, and my only goal is helping JJ bike the whole course himself. We want him to be able to do the entire ride but avoid the support and gear (SAG) wagon this year.”
While JJ is his own team, he does have “the Knight Riders,” who have biked alongside him long into the night these past few years. He’s also part of Team Rockland. When he can, he trains with them and finds that they all push one another to do better. JJ says with pride that he is the only hand cyclist on the ride.
When he isn’t cycling, JJ is a sous chef at NoBo in Teaneck. To learn more about Bike4Chai or to support JJ or David, visit www.bike4chai.com.
By Sara Kosowsky GrossBy Sara Kosowsky Gross