Sunday, April 8, 2012

Riding for the Same Reason

It was a pivotal AIDS Ride season. Thousands of cyclists drawn to multi-day cycling events throughout the US, into Canada and across Europe raised millions of dollars for local AIDS service organizations and vaccine research in 2001. My Puget Sound Riders fielded its largest event team that summer with more than 30 cyclists and crew on the Montana AIDS Vaccine Ride while several more PSR traveled to Montreal for the Canada-US AIDS Vaccine Ride.

Yet for all its momentum, the AIDSRide infrastructure was crumbling. Ramped up marketing had broadened awareness and increased fundraising for several AIDS service organizations and 3 large HIV vaccine research institutes but event costs skyrocketed; soon more money was funneled to promotion than to the worthy beneficiaries. Mega-ride events came to an abrupt end. Beneficiaries lost a major funding source. Riders also felt the loss and immediately began connecting with each other to find ways to continue their commitment to end AIDS by riding a bike. The following summer several grassroots, all-volunteer ride events sprung up across the country - in New York, Atlanta, Texas, Minnesota and the west coast. That same year, my Ride for a Reason partner and I plotted a course and recruited dozens of volunteers across 3 states to raise $30,000 for the UCSF AIDS Research Institute by cycling the Breakthrough Ride cost-free from Seattle to San Francisco.

It’s hard work to organize enough volunteers and sponsors to run a no- to low-cost event in your spare time. We couldn’t manage a Ride for a Reason repeat so in the years since, our Puget Sound Riders team has sought out and participated in events begun by fellow cyclists in 2001 or 2002 who are equally committed to raising as much money as possible to end AIDS - the Empire State AIDS Ride, NYCDC AIDS Research Ride, AIDS Vaccine 200 and AIDS LifeCycle.

Last summer I rode in the 10th anniversary of the AIDS LifeCycle. This summer I’ll return to honor the 10th anniversary of the AIDS Vaccine 200, supporting HIV vaccine research at the Emory University Vaccine Center, with my Puget Sound Rider co-captains, Mary and Jon. In September I’ll celebrate the 10th anniversary of my and Mary’s thousand mile pedal down the west coast with a grassroots return to the NYC-DC route in a “Stealth Ride”, once again supporting Dr. Yuntao Wu’s research to end AIDS.

The cause of ending HIV/AIDS may no longer have the backing of high profile promoters but the ongoing efforts of many, backed by so many more, will bring the end of AIDS within our grasp and keeps hope alive for the journey.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

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