Riverhead man will make 230-mile trek, with the help of a hearing aid

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Tarik Yuzbasioglu rides down Ostrander Avenue in Riverhead.

For Tarik Yuzbasioglu of Riverhead, there are few greater pleasures in life than riding his 10-speed bike.

The wind on his back and the open road give the learning disabled and mostly deaf 22-year-old a much-needed sense of independence, says his mother, Laurie Zaleski.

In fact, he rides all over the East End. It’s not uncommon for Ms. Zaleski to receive a phone call from her son after he has ridden to a friend’s house in Mattituck, about eight miles from their Ostrander Avenue home, and needs a lift back due to a bike mishap.
But a trip a few miles down Main Road pales in comparison to what Mr. Yuzbasioglu will be taking on this May 13 to17.

He and 150 others will be participating in Climate Ride, a five-day fundraising bike ride from New York City to Washington, D.C., which benefits nine nonprofit groups working toward climate and energy solutions.

The ride begins in Manhattan, then cyclists board a ferry to New Jersey. They will ride through Princeton, N.J., Pennsylvania Amish country and Maryland farms before ending at the U.S. Capitol building in D.C.

That Mr. Yuzbasioglu will be sleeping in a tent and riding for almost eight hours a day during the nearly 300-mile trip doesn’t faze him. Although he admitted it can be tough on the knees.

“It’s good exercise,” he said with a shrug. “It’s good for the environment.”

And when the trip is done, Mr. Yuzbasioglu said, he is looking forward to going out for a big bowl of pasta in D.C.  Then Ms. Zaleski will take him and his bike home by car.

The staff at Climate Ride are thrilled to have Mr. Yuzbasioglu aboard. “The ride is really an accomplishment for people with or without disabilities,” said Caeli Quinn, co-founder and director of Climate Ride. “His determination will be a great source of inspiration for everyone.”

Ms. Quinn, whose organization has raised more than $700,000 for climate causes since 2008, said she would reach out to Mr. Yuzbasioglu to see if he needs any special assistance.

This is not Mr. Yuzbasioglu’s first ride for charity. Last September, he rode from Southampton to Montauk to Shelter Island to Greenport and back to Southampton over two days and raised $500 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

His motivation is notable considering life, beginning at birth, hasn’t been easy for Mr. Yuzbasioglu. He was born six weeks premature and was in a hospital intensive care unit for several weeks. His mother has struggled for all of Mr. Yuzbasioglu’s life to make sure he got the best education possible despite his disabilities. But he persevered and graduated from secondary school in 2007 at the Eastern Suffolk BOCES center at Hauppauge High School. He now works as a maintenance person for East End Disabilities Associates in Riverhead.

“I couldn’t be more proud,” Ms. Zaleski said.

She said she isn’t worried about her son being on his own for five days during the trip. Participants ride as a group and there is assistance for riders who break down. Mr. Yuzbasioglu also wears a hearing aid, which allows him to hear the sounds of the road. “I don’t think of him as handicapped,” Ms. Zaleski said. “He really is able to say, ‘I want to do this,’ and do it.”

The ride comes just months after Mr. Yuzbasioglu moved into a group home in Hampton Bays, the first step in what Ms. Zaleski hopes will culminate with a move into his own apartment.

When Climate Ride is over, Mr. Yuzbasioglu will start thinking about his next big bike trip ­— from New York to California.
Ms. Zaleski said that would be quite the accomplishment for someone doctors thought would never walk or talk.

“There he is,” she said. “Walking and talking.”

So far, Mr. Yuzbasioglu has raised $725 toward his $2,400 fundraising goal. To make a contribution to the cause, visit Tarik’s donor page.

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