My AngelRide Experience: James Wheeler

Have you ever thought about riding your bike across the state you live in?

I hadn’t until last December when my mom suggested that I do the Angel Ride. Angel Ride is an annual two day bike ride from Norfolk Connecticut to Mystic Connecticut to benefit children with Cancer. The route is one hundred and thirty six miles in length, including sixty miles and 10,000 vertical feet of climbing. Being an accomplished mountain bike racer who routinely rides forty to fifty miles on the road, I thought it would be a great training ride and a way to help out kids who really need a supporting group of people like the cycling community. It turned out to be much more than a training ride.

The first and only requirement to participate in Angel Ride is that you raise 1,000 dollars minimum to benefit Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Facing the task of raising that much money made me a little nervous, but once I began asking for donations during school I was amazed at people’s willingness to give. Having the monetary aspect under control, I focused on my training.

My fitness worried me because I don’t ever ride 80 miles in one day. The longest training rides I had done were about 60 miles, but I just didn’t have 6 hours a day to spend on my bike. So I continued my regular training regimen of 30 miles a day right through may, and finally on the day before Memorial day, my mom and I made the long drive to the opposite corner of the state.

The first day of Angel Ride is 80 miles through northern Connecticut, ending in Ashford where riders spend the night at Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Once we got to camp, there were speakers explaining what they do for the kids and how we were helping. One of the counselors told us that last year’s Angel Ride bought laptop computers for more than 200 kids with Cancer and I was confused. I thought that the money I had raised was going to help kids with Cancer get better, not buy them toys. But by the time I went to bed that night, It was clear to me that the mission of the camp and the ride was not about the medical side of Cancer. I had completely missed the point. The goal of Paul Newman’s camp is to give the kids a place where they can forget about being in the hospital, and act like kids. Having a serious illness forces these young children to mature well before they should have to, but the camp tries to give them their childhood. The energy and morale boost campers experience has a positive effect on their bodies as well, and many campers leave on a path to recovery.

When I left for Mystic the next morning, It was apparent to me that I had undergone a change. Instead of whining about my legs hurting over the next 50 miles, I rode as hard as I could. Never in my life have I felt more fulfilled than when I crossed the finish line more than 3 hours later. To be part of such a wonderful cause that raised more than two hundred thousand dollars for cancer made me feel very alive and refreshed, despite the 136 miles I had just ridden. I no longer take my youth for granted after hearing about children who were deprived of theirs because of Cancer. The kids I met at the camp gave me strength to finish Angel Ride and it stays with me to this day, through everything I do. If you need me next memorial day weekend, I’m sorry but I already have plans.

– James Wheeler (high school senior)