Wish Hero embraces
her cyclist dad at end of
Make-A-Wish bicycle tour.
ish Hero Sophie Blumberg,
battling an inherited genetic
disorder, rode on a tag-along
attached to her mother Mindy's bicycle as
Team Alex approached the Heroes Hurrah
Finish Celebration Area on July 28 at
Michigan International Speedway (MIS).
Team members were completing the
annual Wish-A-Mile (WAM) cycling tour
on behalf of the Make-A-Wish Foundation
of Michigan. The Brighton-based organiza-
tion grants wishes to qualifying children
with life-threatening medical conditions.
Sophie and Mindy rode two miles out
from the fmish line to meet Team Alex rid-
ers at the entrance to MIS. They got there
just as Sophie's father, Loren, riding in his
first WAM 300, arrived with other team
members finishing either the 300-mile
route that set off from Up North two days
earlier or the 50-mile loop that left MIS that
Emotions soared by the MIS gate as
9-year-old Sophie and her dad spotted one
another, left their bikes and hugged.
"The sight was enough to melt your
heart:' said Team Alex rider Mark Kuhn of
West Bloomfield. "It was pure joy to bask in
father and daughter bonding. What a spe-
cial moment it was to witness:'
The Blumbergs proceeded to lead the
team onto the racetrack and over the finish
line ... with Sophie's engaging personality
and can-do attitude brightening the dreary
"It was so exciting to have my dad riding
with Team Alex and helping Make-A-Wish,"
said Sophie, valiantly fighting Familial
Dysautonomia, which affects the develop-
ment function of nerves throughout the
body. "I was so proud of him. He didn't
even look tired!"
On the MIS grounds as rain clouds gath-
ered, Sophie gave each Team Alex rider a
WAM medal and a hug. Giving her doting
dad his medal exhilarated Sophie.
"That was my favorite part of the day:'
Team Alex, 140 riders strong, raised
about $330,000 of the $2 million WAM total
Each Team Alex member also received a
string friendship bracelet made by Sophie
and her mom.
Team rider Rick Woolman of West
Bloomfield thanked Sophie "for showing us
all how to appreciate life and make others
feel better with a smile:'
The Make-A-Wish experience has been
emotion-packed for Sophie, including har-
rowing moments at sea when her 2012 wish
for a Disney cruise with her parents and
older sister, Alena, fizzled after two days
when she landed in the infirmary while the
ship was docked in the Bahamas.
riders face rain, wind — and a bank robber.
ain and wind were not the only
challenges encountered by the
intrepid riders in this year's Wish-
A-Mile (WAM) bicycle tour. A surprising
and unexpected disruption was caused by a
police confrontation with a bank robber who
had fled to the Lansing hotel where several
of the participants were staying.
After 100 miles of biking on Saturday,
July 27, a group of riders checked into the
Marriott Courtyard in Lansing, showered
and went across the street to a local mall
to have dinner and unwind. When they
returned, the hotel was barricaded by police,
who told the group they could not go inside,
August 8 • 2013
but did not explain why.
"Finally, we were told that a bank robber
was holed up inside, and they didn't know
whether he had a hostage said Margo
Rosenthal of West Bloomfield, a member of
the local Team Alex. "They found out where
he was from a ping on his cell phone"
About 40 riders, from Team Alex as well
as other state teams, went to a nearby restau-
rant to wait. At around 11 p.m., the situation
still had not been resolved, so arrangements
were made for school buses to transport the
displaced riders to a Radisson hotel in down-
town Lansing. Some of the riders stayed to
wait it out, including Rosenthal.
"We kept thinking it would be over any
minute" she said. "There was a whole SWAT
team there, and everything I had was still
Loren, Mindy and Sophie Blumberg pedal on the MIS racetrack en route to the
Heroes Hurrah Finish Line Celebration.
Team Alex is named for Alexandra "Alex"
Graham, daughter of Susie and Bill
Graham of West Bloomfield. Alex died in
January 1999 from bone cancer. Her legacy
is inextricably linked to Sophie.
Alex's wish before she died at age 17 in
her senior year at West Bloomfield High
was to make a public service announce-
ment (PSA). In the unique wish, she and
nine other kids with cancer ask healthy
kids to smile at them because "we're just
kids like you:' instead of staring "because
we might look a little different:'
Alex's wish manifests itself in little
Sophie, whose infectious smile shows her
desire to be involved, not just cope.
"Sophie is a natural fit for Team Alex:'
said her father, Loren, a sales executive.
"This little one does nothing but smile'
Wish Kids have varied prognoses. Each
wish is a gift for families to rally around.
Many of the young patients do survive.
Families typically credit wishes as signifi-
cant in their child's treatment.
As Team Alex gathered for camaraderie-
building the first night of the WAM 300,
Alex's father, also a rider, talked about the
power of his daughter's wish.
"Alex," Bill Graham said, "didn't choose
to be defined by cancer — by having a leg
in the hotel, including my ID and my tooth-
By midnight, Rosenthal and the rest of
the riders joined the others at the Radisson.
Around 2 a.m., they received a text message
saying the suspect had been apprehended,
and a bus arrived at 5 a.m. to transport the
group back to the Marriott.
"We got dressed and started the day," said
Rosenthal, who completed Sunday's 100-
mile ride along with the rest of the riders.
"We figured we're here, we're up and we just
persevered. We knew when it was all over,
we could sleep"
Beth Brandvain of Farmington Hills, cap-
tain of Team Alex since its inception in 1999,
was impressed with how dedicated all the
riders were, including those who lost sleep
because of the bank robber incident.
"It rained a little every day, and a lot on
some of the days" she said. "It was a hard
Team Alex raised about $330,000 this
removed and being bald. She wanted to be
a regular kid.
"What she ultimately did was make a
choice that helped change and elevate the
lives of those touched by the PSA and her
Staying The Course
Sophie's condition, also called Riley-Day
Syndrome, favors people of Ashkenazi
descent. Symptoms include dry eyes,
inability to feel pain and temperature
changes, difficulty swallowing and bouts
with vomiting. Sophie's preventive therapy
keeps crises infrequent. Still, hospital care
is part of her regimen.
Team Alex rider Denise Parr of West
Bloomfield reflected that riding 300 miles
in poor weather hardly compares "to what
Wish Kids and their families endure:'
A fourth-grader at Forest Elementary
School in Farmington Hills, Sophie enjoys
swimming, dancing, summer camp and
playing with her dog, Murphy.
The family is uncertain about Sophie's
do-over wish. Her mother says it'll be
land-based within the continental U.S.
As Mindy Blumberg put it, "Disney
World is certainly high on Sophie's list since
she didn't quite fulfill the Disney experience
on her illness-shortened cruise:'
Team Alex riders Jennifer Dimmer and
Dennie Jo Zink, both of Commerce, and
Margo Rosenthal and Susan Emmett,
both of West Bloomfield
year. Cumulatively, it has raised $2 million
and funded at least 300 wishes.
"We want the community to know how
much we appreciate their support over the
past 15 years, and all the wishes that were
made possible" Brandvain said. "It's more
about them than it is about us."