When Meital Weiss gets on her handbike on Tuesday, it will be her third time riding in the 20th Wheels of Love Alyn fundraising bike ride. But she’ll probably be the only rider wearing a sparkly crown decorated with the number 12, in honor of her upcoming birthday in three weeks.
Her parents, Dubi and Atara Weiss, are riding too, dedicating the effort in honor of Meital’s bat mitzvah, which will take place in December.
Weiss was 10 months old when a tumor was discovered in her spine, causing paralysis from the waist down. She had her first surgery in the US, which was followed by rehabilitation at Jerusalem’s Alyn Hospital for children and young adults and regular checkups. After another back surgery three years ago, Meital spent an intensive two months at Alyn gaining her strength back. Her Alyn physiotherapist suggested she join the Swift and Bold bike riding group of current and former Alyn patients, who take part in the annual Wheels of Love bike ride.
This year’s five-day Wheels of Love bike ride, which raises money for the rehab hospital, began Sunday in the Biria Forest near Safed and ends Thursday in Jerusalem, with 500 riders and volunteers from 12 countries. They will bike one of six routes, including a Challenge route to the top of Mount Hermon and a Century ride of 100 miles.
The ride is expected to raise $3 million, and is known for drawing a cadre of dedicated Alyn supporters, including six of the original riders, a fifth-time rider who is 86 years old, and, this year, Olympic gold medalist hockey player Carina Benning from Holland.
The Weisses began riding as well when Meital, nicknamed Mati, began riding. They drove her to practices at Alyn, located in western Jerusalem, from their home on a moshav outside Modiin.
The couple hadn’t ridden much since they got married 18 years ago and bought bicycles to ride for pleasure.
Now, said Weiss, she’s in much better shape again and they train at night and sometimes on Friday mornings.
As for Meital, she loves riding with the group, said Weiss.
“It’s a great group of volunteers, with a lot of camaraderie,” said Weiss. “It’s special to be involved and meet these people and be part of their lives. There are all kinds of people, of all ages. They all come throughout almost an entire year to meet and bike with the kids.”
Meital Weiss, is a seventh grader at a local girl’s school, is one of the 17 Swift and Bold riders. She was almost 10 when she began riding her handbike.
“She needed to be able to turn the handlebars,” said Weiss. At the time, they used two back cushions to bump her, their third of seven children, a little more forward on the borrowed bike.
“We said ‘ride,’ and she said, ‘this is fun,'” said Weiss. “There’s no such thing in our lexicon as not being able to do something.”
“The experience with the group and the professional riders is amazing,” said Weiss. “She feels like an athlete among athletes. It puts her on par with other adults, with other able-bodied people.”
“It’s not about the disability, but that there is no disability and there is an ability,” she added. “We’re all doing it together and doing it the way we can. We’re all biking, on different kinds of bikes, and we’re all on the trail.”
The family has other goals as well, said Weiss. Her husband wants to ride the full five days and her goal is to ride more than one day. As for Meital, she’s always looking to improve her skills and distances, said Weiss, and she’s serious about the training in between.
“It’s something that we want to make happen,” she said.