Aileen Wingbald, Observer & Eccentric Newspapers
Ron Elkus readily admits he’s no athlete.
He recalls being chubby as a kid, typically “the last picked” for teams.
For the most part, sports and other physical activity just weren’t part of his life. He chose retail as a profession, spending his days selling men’s apparel at his Farmington Hills store, The Shirt Box. So how do you explain Elkus bicycling 300 miles over the course of three days, with his fourth such challenge coming up next week?
It’s all about “giving back to the community” – and the decision he made at age 50 to do something productive and impactful with his life, he explains. That’s where he began his partnership with Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants special requests such as vacations and other wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses.
Elkus, 56, if one of 140-plus members of the nonprofit organization’s “Team Alex” – raising money in honor of Alex Graham, a West Bloomfield girl who died in 1999 at age 17, after a 13-month battle with bone cancer. The “team” was formed soon after her funeral, in response to her family’s request to do a good deed in her honor, said Beth Brandvain of Farmington Hills, founding member and team captain. The first Team Alex ride drew 14 bike riders. But “some kind of contagious enthusiasm for the event and this mission” has grown the team ten-fold, and to-date has raised some $4.5 million to grant more than 400 wishes, Brandvain said. When Elkus first got involved – at the urging of his brother fellow Team Alex teammate, Steve Elkus – he chose a less-grueling option, a 50-mile bike ride fundraiser for Make-A-Wish. He did that annually for three years, then after realizing the good he was doing, he decided to up his game and take on the 300-mile route. To train, he rides five days a week for a few months beforehand.
“It’s a really tough ride,” Elkus said of the route, which takes place July 28-31 beginning in Traverse City and ending at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. “But it’s nothing compared to what the kids (with serious illness) go through.”
And that thought is what keeps Elkus pumping the pedals during the approximately 10 hours he rides each day of the challenge. “I always think of the kids, and think, ‘Wow, if this is tough, what is it like for them? “It’s about giving back and it’s about community. If I’m this fortunate to be healthy enough to ride and financially able to give to this organization, it’s just a wonderful thing,” he said. “And there’s such a great need.” So far, Elkus has raised about $5,700 – surpassing his fundraising goal of $5,000.
Brandvain’s done even better, at $27,000. But of course, the more donations that come in, the more kids that can have a wish granted. To contribute, visit wwwteamalexrides.org. Through the website, donors can designate which rider their funds go to. “This started out as something I could do to provide a little comfort to a friend who lost a daughter,” Brandvain said, noting that Team Alex has evolved into the state’s top fundraising team for Make-A-Wish. “Team Alex is a great example of different people coming together – athletes, non-athletes, people from different economic background,” she said.
“We’re all different but like-minded, to make wishes come true for these kids.”