InTandem: Yale alumni provide joy of bicycling to blind riders
Cheers rose from onlookers as the mass of police cars rushed by, red lights spinning, followed by streams of bicyclists – some clad in serious cycling gear, some with flags affixed to their helmets, some standing upright, making exaggerated strides on their robotic-looking elliptiGOs. Just off the path, a group of cyclists wearing matching green and blue InTandem shirts paused atop their tandem and solo bikes in New York’s Central Park, waiting to merge.
This was the TD Five Boro Bike Tour, a bicycle takeover of New York City’s iconic neighborhoods and bridges, where, for several hours, the roads and highways are gloriously free from traffic. InTandem, a nonprofit founded by Mark Carhart ’88 B.A., CIO and founding partner of Kepos Capital, has made this experience — and weekly rides in Central Park — available to blind and visually impaired cyclists.
“It’s something I never thought I would be able to do,” says Hashim Kirkland, a regular InTandem rider who lost his eyesight from a combination of optic atrophy and a progressive genetic disorder known at retinitis pigmentosa. He’s what’s known as the “stoker” (rear rider) to Carhart’s “captain” or “pilot.”
With nearly 100 riders, InTandem was the second largest group to participate in the Five Boro on May 6, and successively pedaled their way to a $100,000 fundraising goal. In total, the event attracts over 30,000 riders from more than 60 countries. The 40-mile ride winds through Central Park’s lush trees to the industrial, structural Bronx, follows the East River on the FDR Drive – the skyscrapers postcard-perfect at a remove — past the leafy stoops of Astoria in Queens, on to Brooklyn where gleaming hotels rise next to hole-in-the-wall bars, past a drumline’s infectious rhythm and a punk band sounding a wake-up call to the overcast morning, and on, over the Veranzano Bridge, climbing in a long, steady incline before finally releasing the bikers in a long, coasting glide to the finish line and celebration on Staten Island.
Even for veteran cyclists, it’s an exhilarating experience. For the blind riders involved, it was an opportunity to either revisit the joy of riding, or to feel that thrill for the first time.
“There are about 10% of our riders who have never been on a bike before,” Carhart says. “Those are exciting moments. Equally exciting is those who have lost their vision and can now return to riding.”
Carhart has always been an avid cyclist, and trained with the Yale Cycling Club on rides in East Rock and West Rock when he was an undergrad. Early in his career, he was living in California and riding along the beach when he came across a group of tandem riders helping visually impaired cyclists and decided to become involved. Later, having moved to New York City, Carhart wanted to join a similar organization, but it didn’t exist. So Carhart and a visually impaired friend and fellow athlete, Artie Elefant, decided to create their own nonprofit, along with New York City-based entertainment producer Stanley Zucker, who serves as the organization’s volunteer executive director. Elefant passed away from lymphocytic leukemia in 2013, and his many friends kept the organization going.
They included Brian Hammerstein ’85 B.A., an energetic volunteer who has since become the site coordinator for InTandem’s Yale Day of Service ride on May 12.
“I've met about 50 other Yalies through InTandem,” Hammerstein says. “It's a wonderful environment in which to form lasting relationships with fellow alumni.”