Jorg Richter is cycling for the Care-for-Rare Foundation which helps fight rare childhood diseases. The former Germany volunteer firefighter spent the night at the North Marshall Fire Hall midway through his cross country tour and is pictured with local firefighter Brian Beck.
Riding For The Kids
He rides for the kids.
Jorg Richter of Germany made a stop in Britton last week Wednesday, just about the midpoint of a 24-week, 8,000-mile cross country bicycle trip to generate awareness for children with rare diseases in the United States and all over the world.
It’s his fourth cycling trip for what he calls the “orphans of medicine.” Children with rare diseases don’t generate a lot of interest, money, or attention due to such low numbers.
“There are 7,000 rare diseases, many of them related to genetic defects, but when you might have only 25 kids in a country that are affected, it doesn’t get much attention,” said the 58-year-old Richter. “But research can also be used for adults, and slowly companies are realizing it’s at least worth investing in something like that.”
When he was eight years old, Richter’s grandmother gave him a book about a guy who cycled the world from 1965-67, and he always had wanted to do something like that. But life kept getting in the way. But when a good friend died three years ago, Richter decided it was time for his bucket list.
He had worked for 29 years as a physical education teacher for kids with disabilities, and that fueled his desire to continue helping kids in some way.
“I had to find a foundation that already existed, and the first one I contacted was the Care-for-Rare Foundation based in Munich, Germany,” said Richter. “It would cost them nothing and the foundation would get attention, so they decided to try it. I believe things that belong together, come together. We threw a pebble into the pond three years ago, and the waves that came to shore were much bigger than I/we ever expected.”
This is Richter’s fourth awareness bicycle tour and his 12th trip to the U.S. in the past nine years. Three years ago he cycled from Seattle to New York. In 2016 he went from San Francisco to Las Vegas, and last year he traveled from Munich to Madrid, Spain. Next year he plans to tour the countries surrounding Germany.
He departed from San Francisco on April 1 and plans to arrive in New York City at the New York Children’s Hospital on Sept. 24. In between will be a journey through the northern half of the country with a bunch of stops at children’s hospitals along the way.
“It’s all connected with trips to children’s hospitals,” said Richter. “A teddy bear company from Germany sends teddy bears to all the hospitals ahead of time, and it’s a special experience to see those shining eyes. Some of those kids know they are not going to leave the hospital, and for them it’s a special day when I show up. The kids really show the importance of living for the day.”
The trip has not been without its adventures. The wildfires near Durango, CO, forced him to change his planned route. Yellowstone will remain on his bucket list. He endured a tornado and then a sand storm in Death Valley, and he’s never quite sure in which town he will spend the night.
“I was a volunteer firefighter in Germany, and I spent my first night at a fire hall. After that the firemen just kept the ball rolling by calling ahead to firemen that they knew along my route. The brotherhood works in such a gorgeous way in the United States. I would never have dreamt it.”
Richter is also loving his first trip through South Dakota.
“It’s just great. These endless roads – for me it’s something special. I never knew about Redfield, or Groton, or Britton, and next I’m heading to Lisbon. That’s what makes it all worth it.”
He averaged 45-50 miles a day in the mountains, and pedals 65-70 miles daily on the prairies with an occasional 100-mile day. But he also takes time to smell the roses along the way.
“It’s not a race across America, and I don’t have to prove I’m Arnold Schwarzenegger on a bike. I have a few days to play with, and I’m open-minded to fish for a day, and in Groton one of the firemen said I had to ride a Harley while I was there.”
Richter also appreciates the reception he gets on his travels.
“Americans appreciate what I’m doing. There’s a special quality in the United States about being a firefighter and doing something for the community. In Germany they just think I’m crazy.
“I also am able to experience the world around me at my personal speed. I see the rattlesnake in the ditch or rescue some turtles in the Nebraska sand hills, and bicycling is a great way to meet people. People tend to think that someone who is going to torture himself with a crosscountry bike ride can’t be a bad person, and Americans appreciate that I am experiencing their country in this way.”
Richter is also chronicling his journey on Facebook and has thoughts of turning those thoughts into a book someday. But the bottom line of all his efforts lies with the kids.
“My passion is doing something for kids and meeting as many people as possible to spread the word about childhood diseases. I’m an ambassador for kids, and I love my life.”