Tall, lanky and bald, dressed in a neon orange cycling outfit and bright purple glasses, Jörg Richter walked out of Adams County Fire Rescue Station 14 in flip-flops — and immediately started …
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Tall, lanky and bald, dressed in a neon orange cycling outfit and bright purple glasses, Jörg Richter walked out of Adams County Fire Rescue Station 14 in flip-flops — and immediately started poking fun at himself.
“I’m the stinky, colorful, sweaty, crazy, open-minded clown,” Richter said. “The kids love that.”
The international foundation Rare-to-Care, based in Munich, Germany, is sponsoring Richter to ride across the U.S. delivering teddy bears to children’s hospitals and raising awareness.
Richter said he’s always had a lifelong dream of bicycling across the U.S., but he wanted to do it for a purpose.
He began his coast-to-coast bicycle trip for children with rare diseases in April in San Francisco. He’ll finish after 24 weeks in New York. On June 14, his trip brought him to Denver.
According to Richter, there are about 7,000 known rare diseases, and as he points out, “you may think about the number still unknown.”
Richter is a former firefighter in Germany, and four weeks before he planned to leave, Richter found his old firefighter membership card in a box when he was cleaning. And he remembered saying to himself, “What’s the message in finding this membership card? It’s been in that box for so long.”
Richter said he knows there are no such thing as coincidences. His original plan had been to camp along the way, but on his first day in California, he met up with firefighters in Gilroy, California. When he asked where would be a good place to camp for the night, without hesitation, they offered for him to sleep at their station. Every stop since, he’s stayed at a fire station.
No specific child battling a rare disease inspired Richter’s cross-country bike ride. But since he’s been riding, he’s come across person after person who has one of the 7,000 rare diseases or has a loved one living with a rare disease.
In one example, a firefighter Richter was staying with during his stop in Tulare, California, was especially touched by Richter’s cross-country bicycle ride. He gave Richter a necklace with his guardian angel on it.
With tears in his eyes, Richter recounted the man telling him, “I so deeply appreciate what you’re doing. That’s my guardian angel and I’m not going to need that one today. It’s yours.”
The brotherhood of firefighters, as Richter refers to them, has been watching out for him the entire trip. As a former firefighter himself, Richter has been housed, fed and welcomed with open arms by his brothers from across the pond.
Denver has been no exception.
Jimmy Martinez, engineer at Adams County Fire Rescue Station 14, received a message one day from his childhood friend living in Munich, asking for the firefighters at Station 14 to house Richter when he stopped in Denver. Martinez’ childhood friend has a daughter battling a rare disease, and when she read a German article that Richter was bicycling across the U.S., staying at firehouses, she knew who to talk to.
“For me, it was a no brainer. It was a really easy decision. All I needed to do was get permission from my chief. There was a connection to my friend and the fact that Jörg is a part of Care-for-Rare who’s helping these children, which affects my friend’s six- year-old daughter. That right there, I was sold. Then to find out, he’s a former firefighter, I’m like `come on?’”
During his time in Denver, Jörg rode to Children’s Hospital Colorado to visit with the patients there and pass out teddy bears.
“It’s always moving and never the same! But every time I go out with a very grateful feeling,” he said on a Facebook post.
Martinez is just happy to have played a part.
“I think it’s really special when something like this comes along,” Martinez said. “You got to do what you can to help out. And just to be a part of his journey here, like a little blip on his trail, it’s an honor.”
Richter’s next stop on his journey is Wiggins, Colorado.
If you want to follow Jörg along the rest of his tour, you can go to: www.facebook.com/CareforRareFoundation or www.instagram.com/care.for.rare
If you would like to donate to Care-for-Rare, you can go to: https://www.care-for-rare.org/en.
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