Departing from Asbury Park, N.J., on July 31, Pikesville resident Sheldon “Shlomo” Caplan will be one of approximately 300 people taking part in Bike4Chai, a two-day bike ride that raises funds for Chai Lifeline, a nationwide organization that provides care services for terminally ill children.
Like his cohorts, Caplan will experience the grind of a grueling 175-mile course. He’ll also share in the quick transition from exhaustion to elation when the riders descend on Camp Simcha — a summer getaway for dozens of those sick kids in Glen Spey, N.Y. — which serves as the event’s finish line.
However, one key element of Caplan’s experience will set him apart from the rest of the field.
While his colleagues will be riding on two wheels, he’ll be making the trip on eight.
Caplan, 48, is a seasoned inline skater, and after convincing Bike4Chai organizers that he will be able to safely manage the course on his skates (more commonly referred to as Rollerblades), he is now aiming to become the first non-bike rider to complete the trip in the event’s four-year history.
After hearing about the demanding and emotional journey from friends who had embarked on it in the past, Caplan said he wanted to get involved in the event for both the challenge it provides and the cause it supports. Participants are required to raise at least $3,600 to benefit Chai Lifeline. Last year, the event raised about $1.8 million.
“This is an opportunity to do something big [and] also contribute while you’re doing it,” Caplan said. “It’s the best of both worlds.”
Caplan’s initial hurdle was convincing the Bike4Chai staff that his quest wouldn’t endanger his safety or that of the other riders. He actually inquired about participating in the 2012 event, but because it was too far into the planning stages, and due to the fact that the organizers had altered the route from the previous year, organizers were hesitant to add another variable into the equation.
However, with the course set in stone and with ample time to educate Bike4Chai brass on his commitment and ability for the 2013 event, Caplan will be allowed to join in this summer. And, in addition to detailing his training regimen, Caplan provided organizers with video clips of inline speed skaters because very few people have actually seen the sport performed outdoors.
Part of the agreement stipulates that Caplan will be required to drive the course in its entirely beforehand to familiarize himself and get a feel for the various inclines and declines, most notably the ones that occur on the event’s second day.
“It definitely took some convincing … [but] the combination of all of that allowed us to say, ‘Let’s go for it,’” said Yoel Margolese, Bike4Chai’s lead coordinator. “I think the [other riders] will appreciate it. I think he’ll have a great time. I think the campers will love it.”
Said Caplan, “I just had to educate them a little. I told them, ‘Hey, I’m not crazy, I know what I’m doing.’”
Given the green light, Caplan began ramping up his training immediately after Passover, skating from 150 to 200 miles a week at various private courses throughout the area. He’s also working to shed some excess baggage — 30 pounds before the event. The lightened load will ease the strain on Caplan’s body, particularly his lower back, which bears the bulk of the stress caused by his hunched skating stance.
An additional challenge, specific to Caplan, will arise during the hillier portions of the event. Unlike the cyclists who rely on handbrakes to manage their speeds during rapid declines, Caplan must drag his feet in order to slow down. He said that in order to make sure he breaks safely, he will travel no more than 30 mph down hills.
Caplan is also aware of the possibility of rain, so one of the many cars tasked with monitoring riders throughout the course will be personally assigned to him. That car will carry Caplan’s alternate wheels, which are specifically designed for wet surfaces, as well as replacement pairs of socks to be switched out as he perspires in the mid-summer heat.
All of the precautions are instituted for safety’s sake, so that Caplan, like the other participants, can get to Camp Simcha and celebrate uninjured.
While Caplan embraces the challenge and hopes his involvement will draw attention to a mostly insulated inline skating community, it’s the opportunity to share in a glorious experience with fellow riders and kids at Camp Simcha that he’s looking forward to most.
Upon his arrival, Caplan said he plans on giving his skating wheels to a camper as a personal memento.
“That’s the reason why I’m doing it,” Caplan said. “This is their time of the year. They say [the camp and Bike4Chai] make a difference in the outcome of fighting sickness. [The kids] look forward to it all year long. To participate in that is going to be phenomenal.”
To donate to Chai Lifeline in Caplan’s name, visit chailifeline.org/events/ Bike4Chai/my/Sheldon%20Caplan.