Team 26 on the old road to Jerusalem
On 12/14, in the midst of the horror, I received notice that I had been selected to race on Team USA in the World Maccabiah Games in Israel. I put it aside.
Days later I attended Noah Pozner’s funeral. My rabbi and friend, Shaul Praver, spoke about how Israelis cope with their grief following a terrorist attack. They “go to the place” and emerge with a purpose to live for their loved ones, to do something to make the world a better place. At that time, I decided I would join Team USA and race in Israel for them and Team 26 began to develop in the days that followed.
When I arrived in Israel on July 17th, I met my new teammates, now friends for life. With them, I attended the Opening Ceremonies at the Teddy Soccer Stadium in Jerusalem filled to the brim with 35,000 people and athletes from around the world (over 9,000 athletes from over 70 countries). As I marched in, listened to Prime Minister Netanyahu live and then President Obama on the video screens, all I could think about were my neighbors in Sandy Hook. It occurred to me that there was not a single person in that stadium from every corner of the world who had not heard of my small town because of 12/14. All I wanted to do was find my daughter who was in the stands and give her a hug.
Two days later, I went to the Western Wall. I teared up as I recited the Mourner’s Kaddish for our 20 children and 6 educators. I placed a piece of paper in the Wall. On it, I wrote: “Peace, Hope, Love” the same words on Team 26’s jerseys placed there by Chris McDonnell to spread his daughter Grace’s message.
The next day was the time trial (not my specialty). I rode the TT of my life and earned a bronze medal individually and a silver medal in the team competition. As with the ride to Washington, once again, I had Grace and the other 19 children on my wheel.
Between the TT and the road race, I visited Yad Vashem. I cried my eyes out as I stood in the Children’s Memorial listening to the names, ages and countries of a small fraction of the 1,500,000 children murdered. It brought me right back to the reading of names at Edmond Town Hall. I then found my Sandy Hook friend Andrei’s grandparents and aunts and uncles in the Garden of the Righteous for saving Jews during the Holocaust. It was my honor to visit them, and it reminded me that even in the darkest times, good people emerge to do courageous and amazing things.
Last Thursday was the road race, a hilly 10 km circuit on the border with Lebanon. I felt again like I “had no chain.” My daughter (Team 26 support crew member) owned the feed zone, handing me bottles as I came through. After 4 of 8 laps, the field had dwindled down to about 25 riders. My USA teammate broke away. I controlled the front and then got on the back of a chase group consisting of the Israeli National Champion and a strong rider from South Africa. With 2 laps to go, I jumped and soloed in for the silver medal. My teammate stayed away and took gold.
As I was riding alone, I thought of Sandy Hook, and you all provided me with the strength to get out of the saddle and pedal over the climbs. As I crossed the line, I peeled back the number on the back pocket of my Team USA jersey to reveal my Team 26 patch.
As I reflect on my journey, I am brought back to my rabbi’s words at Noah s funeral. We all must go back to the place and emerge with a mission of tikkun olam (healing the world). In time, thanks to Team 26, Newtown Action Alliance, Sandy Hook Promise, and so many other organizations, leaders, and ordinary people that have awoken since 12/14, we will do just that. Sandy Hook will be remembered for transforming the world to a culture of peace, hope and love.