1,500-mile bike ride aims to benefit special-needs children

Through nine states and 25 cities, through blistering heat, torrential downpours and rough roads, come what may, 11 women will pedal 1,500 miles along the east coast for four weeks.

Their goal: to raise awareness for special-needs children.

The starting line Sunday morning was at the Friendship Circle of Miami in Pinecrest, 8700 SW 112th St., where the women took their positions behind a blue ribbon to begin their journey. Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner cut the ribbon at about 10 a.m. and the bikers took off in the first-ever women’s Bike 4 Friendship, a cycling trip to promote Friendship Circle’s mission. A proclamation from the mayor dubbed June 30 “Bike 4 Friendship Day.”

The international organization joins young volunteers with special-needs children, teens and young adults. The Miami chapter has been in effect since 2007 and helps more than 200 families in the South Dade area with 14 different after-school and Sunday programs.

“The cyclists through this trip realize what potential they have and that’s what Friendship Circle is about,” said trip director Mendel Groner. “It’s about bringing out the potential each child with special needs has to affect the world in a positive way.”

This is the first time women can take part in the event, which will take them to Friendship Circles along the East Coast with their message. Trips with male riders have spanned the country, from California to New York, in six-week trips during the summers of 2011 and 2012; a third is currently making its way through Phoenix.

On Sunday, the women set out pedaling north on U.S. 1 toward Boynton Beach, about a 70-mile trip, for the first leg of their journey that will culminate on July 28 in their final stop in the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

For four weeks, they will ride for five to seven hours a day. At night, they will sleep at synagogues, at YMCA’s, at motels. A yellow Penske truck decked out in Friendship Circle stickers carries suitcases, Kosher food and a support staff for the riders.

Heading the support staff is Rabbi Zalman Perlman, a veteran of the cross-country trips. Along with friend Shmuel Rothstein, the two conceptualized the first cross-country trek. What started as a joke between them, to bike to Perlman’s home in California, soon became eight months of preparation to make the trip a reality. They wanted to make the trip worthwhile and joined with Friendship Circle to raise awareness for their cause.

“We thought we were helping to change other people’s lives, but we were just completely different people at the end of it,” Perlam said.

Last October, the women wanted their chance at a life-changing adventure.

Chaya Goldberg, from New York City, was the first to sign up.

All in all, the riders represent five states — New York, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Illinois and California — and three other countries — Canada, England and Slovakia. The riders flew to Miami on Friday to meet and participate in team-building activities in preparation.

Each rider had to raise funds to participate. By Sunday morning, $100,000 had been raised and an additional $50,000 is expected.

“I just loved the idea of combining a good cause and reaching a physical goal,” Goldberg said. “It just seemed like the perfect combination.”

The coordinator of technology at a Jewish day school, Goldberg said the trip is an extension of what she sees in her daily life when she often sees kids in bullying situations.

“This is just a way of making sure that we’re cultivating sensitive kids,” she said. “It solves a problem in a more global way.”

Goldberg has been training for three months for the 60- to 70-mile days of biking.

Although she has traveled up to 100 miles in one day, she has never had to get up day after day to do it again.

“I don’t think there’s any way that you can prepare for that,” Goldberg said.

Chaya Abenson of Manchester, England, has done everything she can to prepare for the stretch of road ahead, including painting her nails in alternating green and purple, Friendship Circle’s colors, with “B 4 F” drawn in white in the middle three fingers of each hand.

“I tell everyone I met I’m doing this trip, “ she said. “I’m pretty proud of it.”

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