German rider finds unexpected help from firefighter community
LITTLE CURRENT—Some have called them “orphans of medicine.”
Around the world, numerous children live with rare diseases that do not have established treatment plans due to their complexity or infrequent occurrences. The Germany-based Care-for-Rare foundation helps to support children living with rare disease around the world, as well as fund research to better understand and treat these conditions.
They could not have found a better ambassador to support the cause than Jörg Richter, a former German firefighter who is currently completing his fourth major bicycle trip for the organization.
“I read a book about a man who biked around the world when I was eight, and always dreamt of cycling a big trip,” says Mr. Richter. But life had gotten in the way and Mr. Richter had shelved his dreams of making that trip for many years. It took a powerful sign to get him back on his bike.
“Three good friends of mine died, more or less, in a row. I started thinking about the bucket list and realized, ‘now is the time’,” he says.
On this year’s trip, he started in San Francisco and is heading towards a final hospital in New York City. In all, he will visit 13 hospitals across North America.
As he was packing to leave, he came across his old firefighter card and decided to contact the German Firefighters Association. He went to their head office to ask if they would write a letter of support on his behalf. That way, he thought, he might be able to stop by a fire hall if he ever ran into trouble along his trip.
Letter in hand, he headed for the United States. After leaving San Francisco he decided to drop in at the first fire hall he came across. They were kind enough to invite him to stay for a barbecue and spend the night in the hall.
But the firefighters were not about to stop there. Before Mr. Richter left to continue his trip, they called ahead to the next station and started what could be described as a chain of kindness that stretches thousands of kilometres across international borders.
“I’m still astonished, flabbergasted with how well the brotherhood works in the U.S. and Canada,” says Mr. Richter. “They are all together on this.”
Some of the bigger stations have been collecting donations for the foundation and spreading Mr. Richter’s message ahead of him. They have even encouraged Mr. Richter to write a book about his experience, which he plans to ask his son in Connecticut to translate for him—he just has not told his son yet.
The firefighter support is nothing Mr. Richter has experienced before. He has thought about reaching out to North American firefighters on his previous trips but has not followed through on those plans. There have been times when Mr. Richter has had to fend for himself, such as travelling through national parks or reserves where fire stations had not been present.
On June 1, Mr. Richter had been riding through Colorado when a sheriff closed the road in front of him due to the Durango 416 fire.
“My whole plans were foiled,” he says, because he needed to reach his next hospital stop in Denver on schedule. He got off his bike to rest and figure out how to get around when a car pulled up. One of the firefighters who had let Mr. Richter stay with them the previous night got out.
“They knew I was in danger and got in their own personal cars to come rescue me,” Mr. Richter says.
Another firefighter in Tulare, California was coming off his shift when Mr. Richter was around. The firefighter took off his guardian angel necklace and presented it to Mr. Richter, saying “I’m off duty; you’ll need this on the road more than I do.” That firefighter had lost his son a couple years prior.
At his hospital stops, Mr. Richter presents children with teddy bears from Germany and gives speeches to the parents and kids. This experience has given Mr. Richter a new sense of perspective on his life.
“Don’t postpone your dreams,” says Mr. Richter. “We can learn a lot from these kids who don’t take life for granted. That’s what we as adults often forget.”
To support the Care-for-Rare foundation and to keep track of Mr. Richter’s progress, visit care-for-rare.org/en.