When Adath Israel Congregation Cantor Alex Stein set out to lose 100 pounds last year, one tremendous accomplishment gave way to another.
Earlier this fall, Stein completed the ninth annual Courage in Motion bike ride from Jerusalem to Eilat. The five-day, 400-km bike ride is a fundraising initiative organized by Beit Halochem Canada, a Toronto-based chapter of an Israeli non-profit organization that helps 51,000 wounded veterans and victims of terror to recover from their injuries and psychological trauma.
Stein was part of a Canadian contingent of about 100 people that raised $750,000 for the organization.
Inspired by the idea of wanting to be healthy for his wife and four children between the ages of 10 and 15, Stein made a decision to shed 100 pounds from his 318-pound frame.
“I set out one day to lose 100 pounds in a year and I lost 87. I still declared myself a winner,” the Australian-born cantor said.
“I wanted to undertake a personal challenge and I got wind of this ride [Beit Halochem] does every year,” he said adding that he felt that through his position as senior cantor at Adath Israel, he could serve as an inspiration to his congregants.
Stein said he spent about one year training for the event, which requires riders to travel about 100 km a day.
“I’m originally from Australia, so I grew up in a country where you could be outdoors every day. I always enjoyed bike riding, but was never serious about road biking…. It sort of became an addiction when spring came to get to that ultimate goal,” he said.
“I can tell you one thing I didn’t train for. I knew it was going to be a physical challenge – that I certainly trained for – but one thing I wasn’t aware of was that during the ride, it would also become a mental challenge to keep going. Everyone thinks from Jerusalem to Eilat is downhill, but let me tell you, there are down hills but there are up hills… That you can’t train for. You just don’t have that weather and the terrain. I did train around Toronto for a year, but the hills you might have here might be one kilometre, whereas in Israel, you might be going up a 45-degree hill for eight kilometres. Let me tell you, that becomes a mental challenge.”
Despite the physical and mental challenges, Stein said it was an incredible experience that helped to create a bond with the other riders.
“Everybody sort of helped each other. There was a lot of camaraderie… We rode with about 20 veterans, guys who were on recumbent bikes, people riding with a prosthetic leg, or one arm… that was very inspirational.”
He said the most rewarding part of the experience, besides raising about $6,000 for the organization through the generosity of the Adath Israel congregation, was finishing the ride.
“It was very emotional for me, selfishly because of what I underwent to do this and to train for it and coming out and being able to say that I finished,” he said, his voice breaking.
“I’m a huge lover of Israel. I’m fortunate enough to have gone to Israel many, many times. For me, this was one of the most inspirational trips I’ve ever taken to Israel because it was for a different cause and a different trip that I would never have taken on my own.”
Stein, who said he plans to take part in the ride “please God every single year” for as long as his body allows it, hopes his weight loss story may serve as inspiration to others who want to make a drastic change in their lives.
“Where there is a will there is a way. This proved to me that nothing is impossible. It takes a lot of determination, a lot of hard work, support from your family and it was just a huge emotional victory.”