Longtime volunteer biking 8 hours for charity on his birthday

posted Tue, Jan 12, 2016 by Jon Buzby

Len Leshem has been involved in SODE for more than 30 years. He is a member of the SODE and Delaware Sports Hall of Fames.

REHOBOTH BEACH — When Len Leshem celebrates his 79th birthday on Jan. 25 he plans to do it sitting down. But not like one would think a nearly octogenarian would sit and celebrate by blowing out candles and eating cake.

Instead, Leshem plans to bike for eight hours on his favorite exercise bike at the Sussex Family YMCA, where he has spent the better part of the last 15 years training for dozens of long-distance events and triathlons.

“It’s a great way to spend a third of my birthday, don’t you think,” Leshem said, smiling.

And it’s not just another exercise session for Leshem. Similar to the other activities — exercise-related and not — Leshem has participated in since retiring from Chrysler in the early 1990s, this one has a purpose. Leshem is using his “birthday ride” to raise money through personal appeals for two of his favorite causes – the Sussex Family YMCA and Special Olympics Delaware (SODE). The money will be used to purchase playground equipment for the YMCA and the SODE Young Athletes program, which serves more than 1,000 children ages 2 – 7.

“For the past 15 years the ‘Y’ has been the mainstay of my fitness program,” Leshem explained. “And the athletes of Special Olympics have been my inspiration.”

Leshem’s dedication to exercise began at the age of 49 and coincided with a friend asking him to help out at a Special Olympics track practice. Since then, what started out as a run around the block has turned into participating in more than 100 long-distance events of some variety, including triathlons, marathons and open-water swims. And what was initially meant to be a one-time Special Olympics coaching opportunity “for something to do” in between workouts has turned into a year-round passion.

“Len’s dedication to our program in so many different ways throughout the years is really astounding when you sit back and think about it,” said Ann Grunert, executive director of SODE. “His tireless efforts are outdone only by his passion for the athletes we serve, whose lives he has helped change through his coaching and fundraising efforts.”

Leshem is seeking donations from family and friends and other individuals who have supported his fundraising efforts over the years. Whenever entering a “big” race, Leshem has used the opportunity to raise money for SODE. His efforts have brought in nearly $250,000 for the organization.

Donations can be made at online or by sending a check to: Special Olympics Delaware, 619 South College Ave., Newark, DE 19716 ATTN: Leshem fundraiser.