I’m riding my bike and am only halfway up a seven and a half kilometer climb from the Kineret. My lungs are burning. I can feel my heart thumping and my legs are on fire. The sun is scorching my skin as I make my way up this beast of a hill. It’s only the second day of the International Bike Ride for Alyn Children’s Hospital. I’m having the time of my life.
For five days, over 500 riders rode through the north of Israel gradually making our way towards the hospital in Jerusalem. Every time we thought the hardest part was over, we rounded the corner into even greater challenges. We would climb into the sun and then descend at incredible speeds over rocky footpaths. We rode on pavement, gravel, rocks, and mud. When the terrain flattened out, we shifted to the big gears and rode like the wind. When we finished for the day, we were covered in dust and sweat. At night, we would shower, eat three or four dinners, and crawl into bed. The next day we woke at 5:00 A.M., ready to do it again.
So now that I am home and starting to feel my legs and other parts of my body, I try to figure out just why the heck I loved it so much. I could say that it is all for the hospital, but you know what? I have seen many institutions that run on donations and nothing is as moving as this place. You see kids struggling to walk again. You see parents who receive a short phone call about a car accident and now practically live in the waiting room. You see doctors, therapists, and even medical clowns trying to get kids who thought their lives were over to smile again. We all should donate and raise money to help these kids, even if we don’t know how to ride a bike.
There is an old midrash that says “Without pain, there is no gain.” (O.K., if it’s not from a midrash then it’s from a Nike commercial, but you get the point.) All of us take on things that are challenging because of some vague hope that the result of our effort will be worth far more than the struggle we put ourselves through. It’s part of our nature as human beings to want to see just what we are capable of.
One day as we were resting our aching bodies and wolfing down chicken, one of the representatives from Alyn showed us pictures of some of the kids who were in the hospital. They had been injured in road accidents, terrorism, or suffered from muscular disease. For many of them, the challenge of learning how to walk is an even greater challenge than the one we all faced riding.
I was born forty years ago. For a while it has been difficult for me to admit that age was gaining on me. But you know what? I was faster than many riders younger than me and slower than some who were older. A guy who I rode with most of the way has a daughter who is forty. “You just can’t ride a bike at forty as fast as you can at eighteen.” Who says that?
We can do whatever we set our minds on. Every day we can find a new challenge. And we shouldn’t be turned away because the task appears too difficult. Because whatever hill you decide to climb, the harder the effort to get to the top, the more spectacular the view.
Will I do the ride again next year?
It’s not even a question. The only question is… will you ride with me?