Managing one athlete is simple; Where the athlete rides, I ride.
Managing two athletes was a little tricky when they ride at different speeds.
Managing four athletes, when two of them are physically challenged and two of them are not, was an incredibly exciting challenge, but far from a calm experience for me.
This was my fourth year riding with Bike4Chai, my third as the coach to their physically challenged athletes and it was by far my most demanding.
Last year I was coaching JJ and Yossi Rotberg. JJ hand cycles due to the fact that he lost a leg to cancer as a teenager. Yossi suffers from cerebral palsy. Two different riders, two completely different coaching approaches.
This year I had four athletes on the course. On these rides, I want to be everywhere at all times, because I worry about my athletes. If JJ is the one we rally around, the solution was simple; where JJ goes, I go.
When you see JJ riding, it is easy to feel bad for the one-legged rider. He is the slowest athlete at Bike4Chai because he is hand cycling. It is easy to forget that he is a married father of two and a successful chef.
The man does training rides during the spring without an escort. He is the captain of a team of able-bodied athletes and physically challenged athletes. We are drawn to his determination to finish this ride without getting a ride from the support vehicles.
We need him more than he needs us.
With this being the year of Covid19, there were so many questions leading up to this year’s ride:
Would the ride actually take place?
How many people would be permitted to ride?
Would we be able to stop at the camp and see the kids who we were fundraising for?
As athletes, we start our training and fundraising in January, but it wasn’t until weeks before the August 13 event that we knew that all 550 riders would be permitted to ride together on the chosen date.
There were modifications: one day of riding instead of the traditional two days.
There would not be a pre-ride banquet.
We would not be permitted to ride into Camp Simcha and dance with the children we were fundraising for.
That meant that instead of coordinating with the SAG (Support and Gear) drivers over dinner, as we have in the past, I had to trust that Yossi and JJ had enough experience to be able to manage their own details.
Remember, these are grown men, who are parents, but I worry…
The official Bike4Chai start time was 9 a.m., but JJ led our team out of the parking lot in Vernon, New Jersey at 8 a.m. We are called the Knight Riders because we always finish the ride at night. We are the last to ride in and this year we were going to need every advantage on this ride.
The sun was shining, the air was warm...and my bike was acting up.
I pushed down on the pedal, not unlike a motorcycle start, yet instead of feeling a sudden push from the engagement of the gears to the cogs on the back tire...I got nothing.
I looked down. My chain was off the cogs that are the heart of a bicycle’s propulsion.
I reached down, threaded the chain back on and I was off.
It’s not difficult to thread a chain back on, you just get bike grease on your fingers.
Our first 10 miles of Bike4Chai2020 were bucolic: Horses, cows, cornfields that advertised their grain’s destination as a bottle of bourbon.
That was when Tuli Weiss called out,
“Hey Dave, got any new jokes this year?”
Last year I tried to pass the time by thinking of conversational topics. When we exhausted those, I started telling jokes. I am told that my jokes are really terrible.
“Why did the bicycle fall over?”
“Because it was too/two tired.”
“Wait, I have another one. Two muffins were in an oven. The first one says, “Boy it’s hot in here.” The second one said, “Oh boy...a talking muffin!”
“Hey JJ, where are you going?” I asked as he started to pull ahead of us.
“I have a new motivation to peddle faster: Getting as far away from your jokes as possible.”
That made the rest of the guys laugh.
Our turnaround was Camp Simcha. This is where the children spend their summers. This is the place we fundraise for.
To reach the camp we had to climb a God awful hill that went on for miles.
The saving grace was once we crested that beast of a climb, we coasted downhill for 20 minutes.
Ok, it was probably four to five minutes, but it felt like forever.
The sun above, the wind in our faces, we were all smiles as we hit 35 mph.
At the bottom when we had to start pedaling again, I mentioned,
“You do realize that we have to go back this way and climb that thing.”
The smiles started to dissipate, so I continued with my warnings:
“If you had your mouth open on that descent, you should drink.”
“I only drink when JJ drinks” was Moshe Gershbaum’s response.
“Bad idea,” replied JJ...
David Roher is a USAT certified marathon and triathlon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and a veteran special education teacher. He can be reached at: