Friday, June 02, 2023

Jerseyans Run For Chai Lifeline

As I walked into the huge ballroom of the Eden Roc Hotel last Friday evening, I was struck by two things. First, the ballroom, the site for Team Lifeline activities during the weekend leading up to the Miami Marathon and Half-Marathon, was stuffed to the gills. Literally. Had there been anyone else in the room, the fire department might have shown up. Second, there were so many familiar faces.

No secret about that. Thirty-seven of my fellow Bergen County residents walked and ran as part of the 450-member Team Lifeline Miami delegation. They raised $1.8 million for Chai Lifeline, the international children’s health organization that helps sick children and their families live with hope while fighting devastating illnesses. (Full disclosure: I didn’t run. As director of communications for Chai Lifeline, I was there as part of the Team Lifeline staff.)

Team Lifeline is the largest charity team at the Miami Marathon. In a field of 15,000 runners and walkers, Team Lifeline stands out not only for its distinctive running shirts, but for the camaraderie on the course and throughout the weekend.

Though the race activities officially begin with the pasta party on Saturday night, the fun really begins at dinner on Friday. Almost 800 people, including runners, family, and friends, enjoy gourmet buffets designed to help everyone fuel up with healthy and nourishing foods. Think lots of salads, chicken and beef, and of course, cholent on Shabbat morning. Ari Weinberger, chairman of Team Lifeline, estimated that the savory traditional dish gives Team Lifeline runners a 45-second edge over the rest of the field. Once everyone had eaten, many people played musical chairs, hopping from table to table to visit old and new friends.

Speaking of pasta parties, Team Lifeline’s is probably the loudest party one will ever attend. The cheering is endless, the fun infectious. The party also gave everyone a chance to glow in the Team Lifeline and Chai Lifeline aura. There were 30 Chai Lifeline moms and dads and 12 Chai Lifeline clients who ran, walked, and rolled as part of the team. Egged on by the contingent of Camp Simcha counselors who were running or pushing campers in wheelchairs, the cheering got even louder. The room applauded the top fundraisers and the new members of the Chai Five Club (people who had run in five Team Lifeline races). They were spellbound by Luke Weber, a 13-year-old survivor who had made it through three bouts of cancer. His resilience and good humor was a reminder of the power of the love, compassion, friendship, and healing children and families find at Chai Lifeline.

Though the course was cold (the temperature hovered in the very un-Miami-like 50s), the runners’ spirits kept everyone warm. Team Lifeline members received shout-outs from police along the route and other runners, especially when they learned what had brought the group down to Florida. It was at mile 12, though, that the world got to see what the Chai Lifeline and Team Lifeline spirit is all about. Seventeen-year-old Adam Wolf, confined to a wheelchair his entire life, got up, and with the aid of a walker and a hoard of encouraging team members, counselors, and his mother, walked the final 1.1 miles under his own steam.

“This is my child who the doctors said would never lift his head up or walk on his own,” said his mother, Ali. “He could never have achieved this accomplishment without the support of Chai Lifeline, Camp Simcha Special (Chai Lifeline’s overnight camp for chronically ill children and teens). What Team Lifeline and Chai Lifeline has given us beyond words. Adam now knows that he can set high goals and achieve the impossible. All he needs is a little inspiration.”

Team Lifeline is the endurance training program that helps people of all fitness levels and experience get ready to run, walk, or cycle on behalf of the children of Chai Lifeline. Over the past 10 years, thousands of athletes have raised more than $13.5 million for Chai Lifeline. For more information, visit www.teamlifeline.org.

By Melanie Kwestel

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