After 30 surgeries, this Queens resident rides with a purpose: helping children suffering from chronic diseases

Courtesy of Yehuda Gelman

A Far Rockaway man will again proudly join a field of nearly 600 cyclists on a grueling two-day, three-state, 180-mile bike ride on Aug. 14 known as Bike4Chai, which translates to “bike for life.”

Yehuda Gelman, 34, was born with hydrocephalus, a rare disease in which spinal fluid accumulates in his brain, requiring more than 30 surgeries to treat. He’s valiantly battled the disease while also coping with cerebral palsy.

“It can be painful at times and it puts a strain on my quality of life, but I got into cycling as a challenge to myself,” Gelman said. “I met a friend who also has cerebral palsy and he told my all about Bike4Chai. I had never rode a bike and signed up for it anyway. I didn’t own a bike and I took a class using one borrowed from a friend.”

Living with hydrocephalus has given Gelman a tremendous appreciation for what he is able to do, and has helped him realize the difficulties that people with disabilities face. Gelman rides with Team Knight Riders, a group of cyclists from Queens and the nearby Five Towns area, in Nassau County, who also face physical challenges, including one who lost a leg to cancer and rides a hand cycle.

“We cycle slower than the others so we’re always arriving at our hotels later in the evenings than the others,” Gelman said with a laugh. “We’ve forged an incredible friendship. It’s imperative for individuals with life altering illnesses or disabilities to find others who have been through the ringer to partner with. We work together as a team and grow together.”

Bike4Chai begins in Princeton, New Jersey, makes its way through Pennsylvania and ends in Glen Spey in upstate New York’s Sullivan County finishing at Camp Simcha, an international overnight camp for children with cancer, chronic illnesses and other medical challenges. Hundreds of children at Camp Simcha are given a two-week reprieve from the challenges of their lives allowing them to restore their fighting spirit and renew their determination to defeat illness and suffering.

Over the last decade, Bike4Chai has raised nearly $50 million dollars for Camp Simcha, the Hebrew word for joy. The cyclist gather a half-mile from the camp to join together for the final push through the finish line at the main gate of Camp Simcha where they are greeted by the campers, many of whom need wheelchairs, respirators and other medical equipment to survive.

“These are patients who are younger than me and some have had over a hundred surgeries,” Gelman said. “The bike ride can be tough but it can’t be as bad as brain surgery.”

Gelman is the founder and CEO of Highway for Hope, an organization on a mission to help individuals with rare diseases to live a more normal life.

“We help them overcome obstacles, finding them doctors, we help them navigate insurance, which can be very difficult,” Gelman said. “We try to offset the cost of food, and find them jobs that can accommodate their illnesses. We help them overcome obstacles that allows them to comeback with a freshness that allows them to tackle new challenges.”

As for his own battles with hydrocephalus and cerebral palsy, Gelman fights through it constantly.

“Through my work at Highway for Hope, we’ve partnered with Wounded Warriors and I’ve heard a term at a military base called ‘embrace the suck’ from soldiers dealing with physical training,” Gelman said. “I’ve adopted a cleaner version I call ‘embrace the hurt’ and just keep moving forward.”

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