Monday, November 26, 2018

Woven Together


A guest in my home is likely to sleep under Bret’s quilt. Mom made one for each of us, carefully choosing colors and themes to fit our personality, often from childhood. Bret loved the water and his early drawings were full of cute little creatures with big features so it was fitting that his quilt would be covered with friendly frogs in a watery sea of blues, greens and purple. His quilt was finished in time to cover Bret in love through the last days of his life and remains a tangible memory of my little brother, in my home.

My first glimpse of Peter’s quilt panel was the same year Mom stitched 2 quilts for a raffle to raise donations for the 2000 Alaska AIDS Vaccine Ride. Lovingly assembled by family and friends soon after his 1995 death from AIDS-related causes, Peter Harding’s family chose to personally share his panel rather than add it to the ever-growing AIDS Memorial Quilt. As a result, this extraordinary piece of art was passed from cousin to friend, sister to neighbor, displayed in classrooms, churches and community events across the country. Peter’s sister Mary would share the touching story of his inspiring life, illustrated by this beautiful panel which came along on our Alaska and New York rides. Peter’s panel would make its final solo appearance this year in Atlanta.

The morning after our 200-mile weekend AIDS ride, a select, supportive group of AIDS Vaccine 200 family joined Mary at the new Names Project Foundation headquarters in downtown Atlanta for the significant delivery of Peter’s panel. We took our time, laying out the panel for all to marvel at the detail and love added by each contributor including more recent family additions. This magnificent panel will be joined to another 7 forming one of more than 6,000 blocks dedicated to over 96,000 individuals lost to AIDS. The Harding mission to remember Peter while maintaining awareness of the AIDS pandemic can now go viral as each panel is digitized and displayed with the memories shared by those who knew Peter best.

That same weekend, 3,000 miles away, another gathering celebrated the life of Gretchen Piscotty. Gretchen and I were new moms, neighbors and fellow church members in California who kept in touch over the years through mutual friends. Her battle with ALS was short and fierce. Gretchen was determined to live every second to the fullest and had family and friends close at hand to make that happen as they tenderly launched Gretchen into her next journey.

Mary heard about the nearby Snohomish Ride to Defeat ALS and suggested we ride it together in
honor of Gretchen. The 60-mile event experience was like every charity ride, from the bustle of crew setting up registration, snacks, water and gear checks to the nervous energy of each cyclist, some experienced and most others not. Hardest to miss at this event was the large multi-generational team of riders and crew in matching jerseys and tees with

the distinguishable graphic of a colorful patchwork quilt on a black background. Team Granny had travelled from Arizona to honor their matriarch and remember her as more than a victim of ALS. Granny, I would learn, was a loving wife, mother, friend and remarkable quilter, just like Gretchen.

The patchwork symbol woven through this cycling season depicts for me the interconnected value each unique contribution makes to the beauty and significance of the whole. Cherished lives are honored and remembered by the actions of those who come together to grace their story and carry their legacy forward. Thank you for contributing to these stories in 2018. Together we bring hope for the journey onward!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

GiveBIG


GiveBIG” says my inbox on this annual day where every donation dollar to Puget Sound charities is doubled by the Seattle Foundation. Doubling is good, tripling is even better. My employer, PayPal, will take care of that. I was recently asked how to motivate people to maintain, let alone increase their charitable giving with the elimination of tax benefits. I’ll answer that with another gift I’ll make today to a charity that is not based in Washington but that lives close to my heart. You see, the world lost a wonderful woman this week, one that I’m blessed to have called friend. The disease that robbed Gretchen of her prime won’t be fought entirely by private funding and decreasingly by government funding. I’ve watched what happens when those funds dry up. The labs shut down. Researchers lose their jobs. The work stops.


My giving is motivated by my heart and each little victory won on an arduous journey taken by those who won’t stop seeking the solutions we insist on making a reality. If my incessant peddling or pedaling inspires you to pitch in, I am blessed. Every dollar donated is a gift and the rewards go far beyond a tax break. To someone, our rewards are priceless.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Unfinished Business

We’re late for our plane but have to rush back for the pamphlets. People need to know! – December 1994

Bret put a massive effort into educating everyone he knew and testing every new treatment introduced in those most desperate early days in the fight against HIV/AIDS, though it saddens me to think he’d never realize the difference he made. Instead, Bret died talking about what more he could have done if not for laws or stigma or a simple lack of time. Perhaps why I feel so compelled to keep HIV/AIDS in my sights, why I’m humbly grateful for the lives saved by your donations and why every ride is a victory yet each falls short of the finish line.

Today is the last day of 2017, an important time to look back on what we accomplished together this year to move closer to an AIDS-free world before turning attention to what is yet undone. In May, the AIDS Vaccine 200 was abbreviated by a massive rainstorm that started as I finished the first 100 miles of day one and cancelled day 2. The bus ride back to Atlanta began in the somber way of any unfinished goal until every rider was struck by the realization of a goal had already been achieved. These 100 cyclists raised a record $358,500 to continue HIV/AIDS vaccine research and support. You contributed to that record before a single cyclist had pedaled one mile from Emory University!

The Fred Hutch Obliteride in August had less dramatic weather (for 2-day riders) and more dramatic climbs of every kind with several hundred cyclists stretching themselves to work harder, raise more money and push immunotherapy closer to defeating cancer and HIV/AIDS - $2,800,000 closer!

Ending AIDS is my unfinished business but unlike Bret, I’m blessed by hindsight stretching back many years that involved thousands more people than miles and I can see how every contribution, large and small, has saved lives and is bringing us closer to ending AIDS. Thank you for being there in my rear-view mirror, for reading this message year after year and believing that AIDS will one day be history, like 2017.

Friday, June 9, 2017

#IOU100miles

As you read this, I’ll be prepping to finish the second half of the AIDS Vaccine 200. That’s right, 3 weeks and 3,000 miles from the first half! Those 100 miles across the Georgia countryside started out warm and muggy and heated up steadily from there. By the time we reached our Rock Eagle overnight, lightning strikes and a threatening forecast led to the inevitable early morning decision to cancel Day 2 and safely bus riders and crew back to Atlanta. Disappointment turned to determination on that school bus as cyclists planned their make-up rides. Mine is tomorrow when I take on the Flying Wheels 100-mile route through the three-river valley in my own backyard. It may be 3,000 miles from Atlanta but the route is equally long, rural and hilly, past pungent dairy farms, over and along rivers and valleys. The weather will cooler but it will be muggy. Lightning is forecast for late afternoon.

Stay tuned for the AV200 epilogue…

Sunday, April 2, 2017

This I Believe - 20th Anniversary Edition

“This we believe: One day every man, woman and child will live in a world without HIV/AIDS. Until that day comes we ride together – with hope for all.”          -AV200 10th anniversary motto
Until that day comes Is why I’m asking you again to make a generous contribution to my annual fundraising drive to move Emory Vaccine Center further down the road to ending HIV/AIDS. Thanks to the tenacity of every donor, doctor, teacher, scientist, care-giver, activist, clinician and advocate, new HIV infection rates are falling and the infected are adding more, healthier years to their lives. So much progress has been made in the 35 years since HIV burst onto the scene that it’s tempting to feel “that day” has arrived. Alas…

Every man, woman and child... Look closely at the data and you’ll see progress centering around those privileged to receive comprehensive sex education, have affordable healthcare, and access to testing and treatment without fear of losing their job, their freedom, their family and support system due to the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS. It matters to me that progress is available to everyone, everywhere and it’s too easy to politicize that possibility away. The ultimate solution is an HIV vaccine and a cure for those already infected. Until that day comes, I’ll show up at the gym at 5am, haul my bike through baggage claim, pull on spandex and pedal, pedal, pedal. More importantly, I’ll peddle the same goal to you.

This year I’ll respond to our unstable political environment by doubling my efforts and hope you’ll do the same. Next month I’ll take on those 200 miles out of Atlanta in solidarity with Action Cycling Atlanta in their 15th annual AIDS Vaccine 200 for HIV/AIDS research at Emory Vaccine Center. At summer’s end, I’ll cycle closer to home in the 2-day Obliteride in support of Fred Hutchison cancer research. The Hutch and EVC are close partners in their drive to end HIV/AIDS and are leveraging cancer treatments to teach the immune system to fight HIV. A win against cancer is a won HIV battle and vice versa.

Both rides spend more than a weekend spotlighting attention on innovative research, commitment to collaboration and sincere appreciation for every penny of every donation raised by ordinary people with extraordinary expectations. I respect that your giving decisions may be as challenging as a long slog up a steep hill in a torrential downpour. I also respect the challenge of HIV. Your contribution, small or large, to either or both rides, makes a difference. Every dollar raised to help scientists explore new ideas can be turned into $14-$16 dollars in federal funding to carry that idea forward. Federal funding is no longer as reliable as your generosity. Let’s do what we can to maintain progress toward that day when we all live in a world without HIV.