Wheels of love

Actively solving problems for disabled and sick children


By Ilan Preskovsky

ALYN Hospital has been treating and caring for children with disabilities and serious sicknesses in Israel for over eighty years now. From its earliest days as an orphanage/hospital for children suffering with polio, to the expansive paediatric hospital and rehabilitation centre that it is now, it has operated as an independent entity without government subsidies.

As such, though it does have much of its expenses paid for by the local Israeli health funds to which every Israeli belongs, due to just how extensive and holistic ALYN’s programmes are – often going well beyond the basic treatments covered by most health plans – the hospital is left with a substantial shortfall of funds. Along with the usual influx of generous donations, the 21st century saw ALYN gain a whole new, innovative way of raising money for their world-class paediatric programmes: ALYN-Active.

ALYN-Active, amazingly enough, has its origins in the second intifada of all things when the Norwood Ravensburg ride for special needs that was due to take place in Israel in 2000 was cancelled for fairly understandable security concerns. This did, however, mean that the nine Israeli riders who were looking forward to taking part suddenly found themselves with neither a ride that they had spent substantial time and effort preparing for, nor the chance to give to a very worthy cause. Not to be deterred, though, these nine riders decided to ride the course anyway. All that was needed was to find a similar cause to race for and ALYN Hospital proved to be an absolutely perfect fit.

As ALYN’s Director of Special Projects, Chaim Wizman, notes, this sort of ride-for-charity event may have been common overseas, but was unheard of in Israel at the time and this novel approach to tzedakah quickly caught the imagination of many Israelis. Not only has ALYN-Active spawned many copycats, but that humble initial ride was such a massive hit that already by the very next year, nine riders had become sixty and the already impressive US $61 000 raised had multiplied by a factor of five. Less than two decades later, the event, now known as Wheels of Love, is attended by over 375 five-day riders hailing from fifteen countries with a further 200 riders joining in for the last day. The 2017 Ride raised over $2,8 million, with proceeds raised covering over half of the hospital’s $4 000 000 annual operating shortfall!

The cost for each participant to enter the race is $1 000, but that mainly covers expenses – it is each rider’s fundraising efforts from his own individual sponsors that are the main source of money generated for the hospital. Each participant is expected to find his own sponsors to raise a minimum of $3 000, but the average sponsorship comes in at around $6 500 – with some pledging a whole lot more.

More than just a charity event, the Wheels of Love race has become one of the premier sporting events in Israel, with participants from fifteen countries, Jew and non-Jew alike (there are no politics at ALYN; they treat Jews, Muslims, Christians – really any child who needs help), with the Ride boasting a 72% retention rate of riders from one year to the next. The Ride alternates between Israel’s North and South each year and each race sees new, often novel courses introduced to provide new and exciting challenges for the riders. ALYN-Active’s Wheels of Love is so popular that, as a general rule, many people find out about ALYN through the Ride, rather than vice versa.

Along with Wheels of Love, ALYN-Active also offers similar programmes for the world-famous Jerusalem Marathon and even offers skydiving for the more adventurous out there to enjoy every Chol Hamoed Pesach. The latter is a particularly poignant programme because, as Chaim explains, the whole point of ALYN is to give severely disabled children the chance to extend themselves far beyond what most people would consider to be their limitations, so it’s fitting that they feature an event that pushes people outside of their own comfort zone. As if to bring this all full circle, just last year a former patient of ALYN Hospital herself took part in their Pesach skydiving event.

ALYN Hospital is clearly a wildly under-known paediatric hospital that provides only the very best care for its young charges, so there’s something quite beautiful about the fact that its major fund-raising organisation has also become its greatest source of promotion and, at times, a true measure of the hospital’s incredible success.

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