TORONTO — What started as a personal healing journey in memory of his father, the late Rami Peled, has become a philanthropic mission to help fight cancer.
Rami Peled died at age 58 in January 2011, after an eight-year battle against a rare form of stomach cancer. Now, his son, Tom, a 24-year-old Israeli, has partnered with the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) and is biking across the United States to raise funds for cancer research.
Tom Peled felt he could best work through his bereavement last year by moving out of his comfort zone and challenging himself physically and mentally. So, last summer, he embarked on a 3,000-mile bike trip through six European countries.
After his European tour, he formed an international cycling charity, Bike for the Fight (BFF), of which he is now CEO, as a way to honour his late father and fight the disease that robbed them of so many precious years together, by raising awareness and financial support for ICRF.
As part of this year’s bike-trip fundraiser, ICRF Toronto is sponsoring its first annual BFF Spin-A-Thon on Sept 23.
Peled began his 3,000-mile American journey with a team of three others Aug. 1 in Los Angeles, continuing through several U.S, states. He will end his trek in New York City Oct. 24. At the end of each day’s ride, Peled shares his personal story with those he meets. He hopes to encourage others to join his cause by donating money or accompanying him on part of his trip.
“One can’t measure with one’s eyes the rewards that biking across the country has provided. The people and friendships made along the way [are like] planting seeds. We may not see the effect immediately, but suddenly we learn of acts of kindness that have sprouted,” Peled said in an interview.
“Tom’s challenge to bike across the U.S.A. to raise funds for Israel Cancer Research Fund is an incredible undertaking and an inspiration to all supporters and volunteers,” said Vera Finkelstein, Member of the Toronto board and an executive and board member of ICRF International.
Thirty-five spinners will be taking on the challenge at the ICRF BFF two-hour Spin-A-Thon. Each spinner will have a personal fundraising page. The goal is to raise a total of $20,000.
Peled will be taking a break in his bike trip to fly Toronto to participate in the BFF Spin-A-Thon, which will be followed by a reception to celebrate his accomplishments hosted by Jeff Bly, executive board member of ICRF.
Not a spinner? Let Tom spin for you by signing up to be a virtual spinner. Registration is $36, with a suggested minimum fundraising goal of $500. Prizes are awarded for top fundraisers. Registration is still open.
Peled, who is a student at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the IDC college in Israel, has already attracted a number of partners and co-sponsors, including El Al Airlines, Hillel in Israel, Maccabiah 2013, the Embassy of Israel and Microsoft Israel, which has developed a facebook and smartphone app for the project where supporters can track Peled’s progress. (www.facebook.com/BikeForTheFight)
Peled has received support from a number of Israeli leaders, including Israeli President Shimon Peres and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
Peled and his team – Eran Rozen, 24, Roey Peleg, 27, and film student Luca Seres, 23, who is making a documentary about the journey – are all students who have chosen to quit their summer jobs and devote their energy and time into this project. They will be starting school one week late this year, as well.
Asked if they celebrate Shabbat on the road, Peled said, “Our team’s core principle is to not bike on Shabbat… We celebrated Shabbat at the Chabad in Boulder City, Colo., with some 150 college students who were excited to hear about our project.”
He feels that their message is getting through. “After biking some 75 miles each day, we open our computers. We are very moved by emails from people who have lost a loved one to cancer, and who tell us that they have been inspired by us and want to make a difference by donating to our cause. These rewards are what keep the forward momentum,” he said.
Peled is selling blue BFF wristbands and hopes to make BFF a brand for the Jewish world. “I want to encourage others to follow my lead,” he said.
All funds collected will be donated to ICRF, a North American organization with six chapters, including one in Toronto and one in Montreal. Founded in 1975, ICRF gives grants to top Israeli cancer researchers in scientific institutions across Israel.
The recipients of ICRF funds, who include Nobel Prize winners, have been engaged in groundbreaking research that has resulted in the development of life-saving achievements, such as early diagnostic devices and new drugs for leukemia, bone marrow cancer, breast and ovarian cancer.
“My dream is that BFF and efforts like it will someday help us overcome cancer so that other families do not have to suffer the premature loss of a loved one as my family did,” Peled said.
To date, BFF has raised $40,000 – almost half of Peled’s $100,000 goal.
The Israeli consul general in New York will be organizing an event, inviting supporters from New Jersey and New York to bike with Peled the final mile over the George Washington Bridge.
“We will ride together and share the victory,” Peled promised.
The ICRF BFF Spin-A-Thon in Toronto takes place from 12 to 2 p.m. at Mayfair Club West. For more information and to register, visit bff.icrf.ca.