It was clearly a celebration as hundreds of riders cycled into the entrance of Alyn Hospital Thursday afternoon, greeted by drummers and cheering spectators to mark the end of the 14th Wheels of Love Ride, a fundraiser for the pediatric and adolescent rehabilitation center.
Many were completing five days of hard riding on various planned routes throughout the country and into the Jerusalem home of Alyn. Others had spent just Thursday riding to the final celebration. There were fathers, mothers and kids, family members and friends cycling in groups, brought together from other countries, creating mini-reunions for the duration of the ride.
And then there was a small, unique group in the middle of it all, eight kids who were once patients at Alyn and were now well enough to ride, at least for part of the final day.
It all began with Ruth Vitztum, an Alyn physiotherapist, who thought of having the kids ride along after watching her teenage patients in previous years “look to the riders as heroes.”
“There really was no reason why they couldn’t do it,” she said Thursday, dusty and sweaty after the five-day ride, but clearly feeling elated that the kids had pulled it off.
The eight former patients, ages 8 to 18, began training about five weeks ago, planning to ride between 7.5 and 10 kilometers. Each of them rode with a parent, some on tandem bicycles, others on three-wheeled cycles geared for their particular disabilities.
“They learned how to go up and down hills, how to handle ditches; we had different goals each week,” said Vitztum.
Yisrael Medina and his nine-year-old daughter, Noam, were two of the riders on a tandem bike, flushed and happy to have made it back to Alyn. Noam Medina was diagnosed with Legg–Calvé–Perthes Disease, a childhood hip disorder, about a year-and-a-half ago, and has undergone surgery and long-term hospitalizations at Alyn in the months since.
“Movement is really important for her healing, so this was a great thing for us to do,” said Medina. “She can’t do it all alone, so this way we do it together.”
Dudi Gil, another father who rode with his son on Thursday, shook his head when describing the ride. It was something, he said, he didn’t think they’d get to do when they first arrived at Alyn a year-and-a-half ago.
His son broke his ankle and developed CRPS, Complex Regional Pain Sydrome, as a result. He was hospitalized and then spent a lot of time at Alyn, receiving therapies and working on rehabbing his ankle.
“I just didn’t think we’d get to this day,” Gil said.
In past years, patients handed out medals to the riders, according to Uri Lahav, director of the therapeutic sports center at the hospital. “This year,” he said, “they, too, are receiving medals.”