Eight bikers do cross-country bike ride for special needs children

Riding along! Eight bikers traveled from southern California to Brooklyn all in the name of charity during the Investors Bank Bike 4 Friendship Tour.

On Sunday, August 17, their 3,000-mile and 38-day journey reached its conclusion at the finish line, 2997 Ocean Parkway in Brighton Beach. Hundreds of friends, family and Brooklynites gathered near the finish line to cheer on the riders who were raising both money and awareness for the Friendship Circle, an organization that betters the lives of children with special needs.

“I would definitely say it’s one of the bigger accomplishments in my life,” said rider Eli Black, who rode in the marathon for the first time. “We climbed through deserts and sometimes it was 115 degrees throughout the day. We cycled through canyons and mountains. Through the Friendship Circle, we helped children with special needs and developed great friendships.”

Brooklynite Zitzi Smith, who has participated in a cross-country bike ride for the second time, had several responsibilities as the group’s lead cyclist.

“My job was to make sure the routes were safe,” he explained. “I set up the routes using websites like Google Maps.”

Smith also kept morale up during the more grueling days. “I gave encouragement to keep their spirits high. We would do other things in downtime like swimming. That helped relax us.” Smith first got involved with the Friendship Circle when tutoring a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Since 2011, Friendship Circle has raised over $500,000 for children with special needs. “The riders who do this are true heroes,” said Mendel Groner of Friendship Circle. “It’s a very big challenge. To take the summer to do something for a great cause, there’s nothing better than that.”

Many of the riders were surprised by the biggest challenge of the long trek to Brooklyn. “Most of us thought the hardest part of the trip would be physical aspect, but we were wrong. Mentally, it was hardest. We would get up every morning, and ride five to six hours and 80-120 miles a day,” said Black.

The bicyclists took off Saturdays to rest. “In terms of riding, it was easier for me than last year because of my training,” Smith said. “Mentally though, it was pretty much equal. Sitting on bike for 7-9 hours a day can get to you.”

However, the positives outweighed any of the hardships according to the bikers. “Along the routes, we talked to mayors about the organization and how we were raising money,” said Black. “In Livingston, more few hundred volunteers with special needs kids were there, cheering us on. It put big smiles on all of our faces.”

“Crossing the finish line was amazing. The adrenaline rush I felt when going down bay Ocean Parkway is hard to describe,” said Smith. “You feel like you can do anything.”

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