Some people kiss the soil of Israel when they come to the Holy Land. Last month, Audrey Adler didn't so much kiss the dirt as inhale it.
Adler and a handful of other Angelenos participated in a charity bike ride for Alyn Children's Hospital in Jerusalem through some of the toughest terrain Adler has ridden.
A mountain bike racer and triathelete who trains in the Santa Monica Mountains, Adler took the off-road leg of the bike ride from the Negev desert up to the Dead Sea and on to Jerusalem, where 250 yellow-clad riders from around the world swept into the parking lot of Alyn hospital on Oct. 28. This year's ride raised nearly $1 million for the hospital, which has a new residential wing and rehab center for children with chronic respiratory disease. Christopher Reeve visited the hospital last year and was a supporter.
"When you see these kids you just say, 'OK, I'll do whatever you want,'" Adler said. "These are kids who were born with difficulties, kids who were victims of terrorist attacks, kids that just had fluke accidents."
Adler, a self-described workout maniac who teaches spin classes for women at her home studio, and also leads classes at the Spectrum Club and Sports Club/LA, didn't let a shattered wrist bone from a snowboarding accident last February stop her from training for the five-day, 240-mile ride (300 miles for the on-road riders). It started at the Ramon Crater in the Negev, traversing dusty desert mountains in 100-degree heat and stifling humidity.
Riders stayed overnight at kibbutz guest houses, and Adler was inspired by visions of men going to minyan at the crack of dawn with tallit and teffilin over their lycra shorts and yellow jerseys.
"It was like I died and went to heaven -- that I could ride on a supportive ride that didn't ride on Shabbos, that catered to my every need with three kosher meals a day, and I was out there with other maniacs like me that were Jewish and Israeli, but total fiends like myself," Adler said.
This is Adler's second year riding in the 5-year-old event, and this year she got corporate sponsorship from Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, whose Californian and Israeli divisions kicked in $5,000 for her ride. In addition, Coffee Bean donated a 200-gram souvenir canister of coffee to every rider.
Adler also got $5,000 sponsorship from one of her training clients, Richard Crane, a 61-year-old Jewish man who didn't have much to do with Judaism or Israel until he met Adler.
"I go out with him on weekends on very long bike rides, and I talk to him about Judaism and I explain things," she said.
Many of her students are shocked when they find out that Adler, a vivacious talker who doesn't have an ounce of fat on her and has a fashion sense worthy of her other identity as an interior designer, is in fact a 45-year-old Orthodox mother-in-law.
Adler's husband, Benny (the eponymous Benny of the minyan at Beth Jacob), secretly trained and surprised her by participating in the on-road bike ride for Alyn, in honor of their 25th wedding anniversary.
"A ride like this gives athletics a deeper meaning. It took everything I've worked on for years as an athlete and implanted into it a soul and made it whole," she said. "This took it to a whole other level and I want to focus on turning other people on to it."