The Tour de France may be making international headlines, but another cycling event took place much closer to home on Tuesday, July 16. One hundred and sixty women decked out in sporty black and bright pink uniforms took part in the annual Tour de Simcha, an all-female cycling event that raises funds benefitting Chai Lifeline, the international health network supporting children and families living with life-threatening and lifelong illnesses.
Tour de Simcha, now in its eighth year, kicked off Monday evening in Woodbridge, New Jersey, where a pre-ride pasta party was held featuring lively music and inspiring speeches from Chai Lifeline clients. The following morning, riders were allowed to choose between a 100-mile century ride as well as other distance and route options leading to Camp Simcha Special, Chai Lifeline’s flagship summer program for children with chronic illnesses and disabilities in Glen Spey, New York.
Participants battled the heat and were pushed on by energetic volunteers who cheered on the riders at various rest stops along their route. As the riders crossed the “World’s Greatest Finish Line,” the entrance to Camp Simcha, they were greeted by throngs of campers and staff, as well as their family and friends. The event culminated with an awards ceremony, honoring the riders for their support and commitment to Chai Lifeline.
While the riders enjoyed the physical challenge, they all participated in a variety of reasons.
Rachel Leff, a marketing professional and Atlanta native currently living in Manhattan, is a veteran cyclist and first-time participant in Tour de Simcha.
“After I trained for the 5 Borough Bike Tour in New York City I didn’t want to stop there,” said Leff. “So I found a ride with a cause that matters to me. I’m a respite volunteer with Chai Lifeline and seeing the struggles of what the kids and parents go through made me want to dedicate myself to training and fundraising for this incredible ride. I’m excited and nervous but the important part is that I reached my fundraising goal so no matter how far I go my dollars are doing the real work.”
Sarah Russell from Englewood, New Jersey, is also a first-time Tour de Simcha rider.
“I signed up for the ride before I knew I was pregnant,” said Russell, a mother of two and a jewelry business analyst. “When I found out I was expecting, I was determined not to back out because I believed that there was no better time to do Tour de Simcha than now. I am blessed to have two healthy children and another one on the way, but there are people in my life who have been sick or have children who are sick. It’s important to give back to the community and show you’re there for them.” Russell dedicated her ride to the recovery of Sarah Naomi, a 14-year old Camp Simcha camper.
Roni Selig of Manhattan is a triathlete, TV producer and mother of two. Selig, who had recently returned from a cycling tournament in Iceland, served as one of the marshals of Tour de Simcha.
“In their everyday lives all these children see are nurses and doctors,” said Selig. “They stare at the walls of the hospital, they’ve got tubes and needles inserted in their bodies and they undergo all these scary tests. They are surrounded by grownups all day. So for them to be able to come to a camp where they can see their peers who have gone through similar experiences, where they can jump and play and experience joy, that is the best medicine.”
To register for Tour de Simcha or to learn more, please visit www.tourdesimcha.org.
“The dedication of our Tour de Simcha riders is inspiring,” said Mindy Tyner, director of Tour De Simcha. “In addition to accomplishing a phenomenal athletic feat, their devotion to ‘go the extra mile’ by fundraising for Chai Lifeline and spreading its message of hope, impacts countless lives.”
You actually said that terrifically.