Jörg Richter is living the dream, and it’s not something he takes for granted.
The German cyclist and former firefighter – who spent the night at the Newton Fire Department on June 28 – is traveling across the United States to raise awareness for children with rare diseases. Her wish is for a world where all children have the chance to live out their dreams.
For Richter, he had always dreamed of cycling across the United States, from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Statue of Liberty, since he was a child. But the dream had been postponed for years. In 2014, Richter’s three best friends passed away, and that’s when he decided he was “not going to put anything off anymore.”
Rather than riding the bike solely for personal enjoyment, Richter wanted a deeper sense of inspiration to push him through the long journey. He found a non-profit organization that he could represent. Cycling as an ambassador for Care-for-Rare America since 2015, Richter is raising awareness for a global initiative.
Richter, 62, is currently on his eighth coast-to-coast tour, which began in March in San Francisco. He plans to complete the course by September in New York. He also participated in other tours in Europe. In 2017, Richter traveled over 1,200 miles from Munich, Germany to Madrid, Spain.
Shortly after this long drive, Richter decided he had to quit his job coaching and speaking for Germany’s largest health insurance company. Before that, he worked as a firefighter. This past experience is incorporated into his tours, as he relies heavily on the hospitality of fire stations across America.
At the Newton Fire Department, Richter was greeted by Fire Chief Jarrod Wellik and the rest of his staff. The fire station offered him a bed for the night, which Richter greatly appreciated. The camaraderie of firefighters is strong and he values the relationships he builds. Richter says he’s been to 400 stations.
“There were about 200 stations in the United States alone and about 200 in all European (countries),” Richter said. “So it’s the same all over the world, even if you don’t speak the language. I don’t speak Danish, Czech or Polish at all, but I say “Hey, colleague!” And the door is open.
Previous tours have taken him through Iowa and the Midwest, although this is Richter’s first time visiting Newton. When he visited Hawkeye State about four years ago, it turned out he had cycled a week before RAGBRAI. Locals teased him saying it was too early.
Richter had kind words for Iowa. As someone who averages 50 to 60 miles a day on a tour and at several feet in elevation, Richter said Iowa isn’t as flat as people think. Some driving days in Iowa are pretty tough. Before arriving in Newton, he traveled 50 miles through strong headwinds and 2,000 feet in elevation.
People used to give Richter grief and ask him why he decided to come back to places like Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
“I’ve met the most gorgeous, best, beautiful, friendliest people in these states where no one wants to go,” Richter said. “So I’m back!”
In Cedar Rapids, Richter sat down with local TV media to talk about his cause, his New York tour, and his message to never wait for your dreams. For some children struggling with rare diseases, they don’t know what tomorrow holds. Richter keeps this in mind when on the road.
Richter’s to-do list of U.S. bike travel was completed in 2015. For him, it was “cheesecake.” Everything else that happened in the years that followed in the United States and Europe was “cream on the cheesecake”.
“Every day is a special beautiful red cherry on the cheesecake cream,” he said. “You can’t pay someone for stuff like that. I’m so grateful that I can still do it. There are so many of these people who have died. There are so many children I see in hospitals who will never achieve such dreams.
That’s why Richter rolls. If he can raise enough awareness, encourage people to donate to Care-for Rare-America, and thereby find ways to treat—even cure—rare diseases, maybe they can one day realize their dreams. In the meantime, Richter is sharing this message with everyone:
“Don’t put off your dreams,” he said. “Don’t wait until you’re retired.”
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or [email protected]