Retired German firefighter cycling across U.S. to raise awareness of children with rare diseases

Instead of hotels, Jörg Richter is staying at fire stations as they always have "an open door," he says


Benjamin Joe
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, N.Y.

LOCKPORT, N.Y. — Jörg Richter, a native of Germany, is cycling the breadth of the United States, from San Fransisco to New York City, to raise awareness of children living with rare diseases.

The charity that Richter is riding for is Care-for-Rare America, which notes that 30 million Americans are affected by rare diseases and 50% of them are children.

Richter, who spent Tuesday night in Lockport, said one thing he's learned from these children is to "enjoy today."

"The kids remind me," Richter said. "They don't worry about tomorrow. They just enjoy every moment of this day."

To Richter, that's a powerful message. After three of his friends died in 2016, he swore "not to postpone anything anymore," and knowing another friend's child suffered from a rare disease, he felt the pull of inspiration.

Richter said he had dreamed of cycling North America since he was a child. This is his third cross-continental trip. One time he started in Seattle to get to New York City, and the other time, between San Fransisco and New York he took a different route. Other places he's been on his bicycle include Australia and various countries in South America, as well as his home continent, Europe.

Richter said there's something about the United States that just "fits" with him. He believes Americans are more open and friendly, as well as enthusiastic about his profession. Richter is a retired firefighter and he said that while the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks brought even more of the sentiment out, people in the United States seem to have always respected firefighters in a way that he has not seen anywhere else.

Being a part of the brotherhood of firefighters also does not hurt Richter's ability to cycle cross-country in his 62nd year. Instead of using hotels, he'll give notice to the local fire department where he plans to rest — and get taken care of for the night. The fire hall always has an open door, he said.

"The station I stop at always prepares breakfast and dinner," he said. "I'm not starving."

After riding 30 miles between Niagara Falls and Lockport on Tuesday, Richter said he was not tired at all, and he judged the roads of Niagara County to be in good shape. He recalled cycling in New Mexico, at 6,000 feet elevation for more than 200 miles. That made him tired, he said.

Richter said he loves the endless sky and often rides on back roads where he sings to himself, sometimes French songs, other times German songs. He doesn't have any electronic devices to play music while he's cycling, and there's a good reason for that. He has to be careful about potential threats, such as rattlesnakes, and can't have the distraction of even a transistor radio.

More about how to donate to Richter's chosen charity can be found at care-for-rare-america.org/jorg.

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(c)2022 the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal (Lockport, N.Y.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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