Last weekend, Beth Brandvain and her husband, Avi, hopped on their tandem bicycle and trekked 300 miles with 900 other bikers, inspired by the memory of a West Bloomfield teen who died 14 years ago.
As members of Team Alex, they helped raise $285,185, more money than any other team in the Wish-A-Mile three-day bicycle trek, for Make-a-Wish Foundation of Michigan. Beth Brandvain was top individual fundraiser, collecting more than $37,000.
She said her involvement with Wish-A-Mile began after her son Yaniv's 17-year-old classmate Alexandra (Alex) Graham died of bone cancer in 1999. Beth accompanied him to the funeral, where Alex's father, Bill, told everyone about Alex's wish – granted by Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan – to create a TV commercial that asks people to look more kindly on kids with cancer, or anyone who looks "different".
"(Bill Graham) said don't feel sorry for us, just do a good deed," Brandvain recalled. She knew about the Wish-A-Mile ride, and said, "I thought that would be a really nice thing to do this bike ride in memory of Alex."
She got some friends together and received Bill and Susie Graham's permission to ride in their daughter's memory.
"And then we found out it was 300 miles," she joked.
In the beginning, 14 people who had never ridden such a long distance banded together. They represented 10 percent of the Wish-A-Mile group, and they raised 30 percent of the money generated from the event.
"It was a personal milestone for each and every one of us," Brandvain said. "It's still meaningful every year."
Over the years, Team Alex has grown by leaps and bounds. Last weekend, 86 riders did the 300-mile ride, and another 24 participated in the one-day 50 mile ride at the end of the tour. Team member Davida Robinson put together a "family tree", starting with Alex and her parents, then the 14 original riders, the people they brought in and down the line, for five or six "generations", Brandvain said.
She added the "amazing friendships" and the goal of staying healthy and fit are part of what has kept her riding for 14 years. But mostly, it's knowing so many children have received wishes through the $600,000+ raised by Team Alex over the years.
"We really try to stay on target and make this about Alex and children and making the world a better place, a less painful place," Brandvain said.