Saturday, March 25, 2023

It was a finish line like no other. The Camp Simcha Special campers were lined up and waiting patiently, dressed festively in pink with dedicated counselors by their sides. The temperature rose and the excitement increased by the second as volunteers, family members and guests awaited the riders’ arrival. The atmosphere at the Glen Spey, New York, campus of Camp Simcha was overflowing with joy, but when the women of Tour de Simcha began rolling into camp to cross the “World’s Greatest Finish Line,” the celebration truly began.

Some 175 women participated in Chai Lifeline’s Tour de Simcha 5th Anniversary Ride to benefit Camp Simcha, an overnight camp where over 400 sick and disabled children come each summer to have the time of their lives. Each and every rider was cheered on as they crossed, with eager volunteers attentively whisking away the bikes, allowing riders to immediately join the triumphant dancing and celebrating. The master of ceremonies, girls’ head counselor Rivky Schwartz, rivaled any professional announcer with her ability to keep the energy going at a constant high.

Rider Rivky Holtzberg was undoubtedly the superstar of the event. Born without legs, 18-year-old Rivky rode 50 miles on a hand bike, astonishing and inspiring fellow riders, campers and spectators alike. A Camp Simcha camper for the past 10 years, she was motivated to ride after witnessing the exuberance of the finish line year after year. The entire camp rooted for Rivky this year as they distributed and displayed their “#teamrivky” stickers throughout the day.

The celebration continued on in the camp gym where awards were presented to the riders who raised the most money for the cause. Deborah Katz from the Lawrence, New York, led “Team Miles for Mimi,” riding in honor of her mother and raising $75,000. Some of the top riders not only brought in the largest donations but also the utmost of enthusiasm; Dr. Tammy Glaubach Bryk and Tamara Kaynan of Queens with their festive wigs and tutus, and Dasi Gobioff of Brooklyn, aka The Purple Lady, all come back to ride and spread their cheer year after year.

Participants from the tri-state area and beyond tackled the 72-mile ride facing 90 degree temperatures with passion and dedication to the cause. Training and fundraising throughout the year, many riders also motivate their family members to ride, including returning rider and blogger “Fashion-isha” Sharon Langert of Springfield, NJ, who brought along her daughter Sara Reifer to join her all the way from Lincolnwood, IL.

Tour de Simcha represents a diverse spectrum of women across the Jewish community and of every fitness level—from seasoned athletes to first-time riders. Lottie Bildirici, an avid athlete and holistic health coach who runs the popular website “Running on Veggies” and has participated in numerous triathlons, was one of the most conditioned athletes of the ride. She was very excited for Tour de Simcha from the beginning, but the experience surpassed her expectations by far.

“The ride was tough, hot, hilly and unforgiving—but that finish line made every ounce of sweat worth it. You can hear the noise from miles away as we approached the finish line. Each child came and thanked me for riding, but I felt like thanking them for giving me this opportunity to ride for such an unbelievable cause,” says Bildirici. “I am already looking forward to next year!”

Libby Akerman of Monsey, New York, was one of the driving forces behind TDS, having come up with the initial idea for a women’s ride after cheering on her husband during Bike for Chai men’s ride.

She recruited riders for that very first ride and watched the event grow from there. Her enthusiasm for the ride is contagious.

“It’s amazing to be a part of the best event ever for female athletes! There is no feeling as good as the finish line at Camp Simcha; it unites us all on the most human level,” says Akerman.

The event kicked off on Tuesday, beginning with the pre-ride pasta party the night before, where Rivky shared her story and inspired her fellow riders. First time rider Aliza Cinamon of Cedarhurst attended with her sister, returning rider Tova Gerson of Bergenfield, and was moved by the entire experience. She expressed how meaningful it was when Executive Vice President Rabbi Simcha Scholar addressed the riders at the pre-ride dinner, telling the women that “Camp Simcha is one of the holiest places on earth, and that as we ride in we should pray for whatever we want because the place is so holy.”

The entire two days of the Tour de Simcha event ran flawlessly with Director Mindy Tyner and Producer Yoel Margolese at the helm. Every comfort was provided to the riders from beginning to end, from the amenities provided for the overnight stay at the Minerals Resort & Spa in Vernon, New Jersey, to the array of refreshments at each rest stop, some with dancing and even a massage therapist toward the finish line. Riders’ safety, comfort and hydration were top priority, especially given the extreme weather conditions. Riders and guests were treated to a lavish barbecue after the ride, with riders given the opportunity to utilize mobile showers provided for them.

Tour de Simcha 2016 was an overwhelming success and raised over $900,000—close to double the amount of last year’s ride—with the help of an impressive list of corporate sponsors big and small. After some much-needed rest and recovery, the entire team will definitely be gearing up for an even bigger and better Tour de Simcha 2017.

By Tammy Mark

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