By George Bussman
Fred Brooke first told me about Angelride that first year it was held way back in 2004.
I’m afraid the length and terrain of the ride closed my brain to the possibility of joining the ride until year three.
As a seasoned cyclist, I reasoned that if I trained sufficiently, I could do this ride. The ride is fully supported with frequent rest stops and a sea of volunteers supplying food, water, and encouragement along the way. Two dozen moto-escorts make sure that tricky intersections and route changes are staffed to keep riders on course. A bike mechanic follows the ride with spares and tools for the inevitable flats and chain issues. Several sag wagons make sure no one is stranded if they can’t complete the ride or need assistance.
Day one breaks very early, marked by nervous energy, as 200 riders assemble at the starting line. Once underway, though, a shared sense of purpose takes hold to help turn heavy legs. Each rest stop becomes its own destination point as the miles fly by.
It isn’t until after the lunch stop that the miles and steady increase in elevation start to take their toll. There are several hills that appear in rapid succession. I find that my lowest gear is not low enough, and combined with cramping muscles, I slow to a halt. Up ahead, another fellow is also walking his bike slowly up the hill. Walking together, we shared how we came to be on this ride. He told of hitting the wall at almost this exact same spot last year (his first year) when a fellow rider stopped to commiserate and join forces. A pact was made that they would each support the other, making sure they finished together. This was my first glimpse into the spirit of Angelride and the power of two or more joined as one to conquer the hills, finish the ride, and make what seemed impossible, possible.
He and I ultimately finished together in joyous celebration! Both Angelride and Hole in the Wall Camp make possible what many think is almost insurmountable. Year after year, riders tell their tales of camaraderie and bonding that take place out on the hills and roads leading to Camp. While the ride pushes many to the brink of our physical abilities, we also learn about the role that the human spirit plays in getting us to Camp. During the ride, we experience the same spirit that often propels many campers past their limits, helping to bring about miraculous healing of both mind and body.
As Mr. Paul Newman and several wise physicians discovered decades earlier, giving children who have been diagnosed with severe and often terminal diseases the chance to interact and play with their peers can have transformative effects. This bonding experience can ease their burden and give them hope that somehow, some way they may be able to escape what was thought inevitable. Thousands of stories of seismic changes during that week at Camp fuel new campers’ hopes and make survival not only thinkable, but very possible.
Saturday evening entertainment at the Camp’s theater is the culmination of what makes getting to and staying at Camp so special and difficult to describe. It is a celebration of and testimony to the power of the human spirit. Former campers and their families share story after amazing story of coming to the brink of despair, and then after the balm of Camp, finding hope and the possibility of remission. It is a weekend that renews our faith in each other and reminds us of how we can make a difference in each others’ lives when we are called on to do so.
Angela Uihlein, for whom the ride was named, is now 24 and in remission from the leukemia that brought her to Hole in the Wall Camp at age 12. She recently graduated from the Southern Connecticut State University’s School of Nursing and is giving back to the community that she and her family have been a vital part of since 2004 when Fred and Lynn first conceived of the ride.
The ride is a work in progress. Each year new riders appear and many, many multi-year riders return to support the effort to provide a camp experience to those children unable to attend the Camp itself. Millions of dollars have been raised to support the Hospital Outreach® Program that brings the camp experience to a child’s room in a creative and interactive way. This camp-in-a-suitcase gives each child the escape they need from the intensity of daily treatments.
Each year unfolds differently whether we ride or volunteer. There may be bumps along the way, but the time passes almost effortlessly in spite of how hard the task at hand seems.
Come join us on our next Angelride and see for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.