Monday, September 10, 2012

Red Badge of Courage

The summer of 2001 I was still a novice cyclist, preparing for my longest ride to date. Since we would cross the Continental Divide on Day 2 of the 7 day ride across Montana for HIV/AIDS vaccine research, a friend and volunteer coach (who more than earned the moniker “The General”) insisted we train by riding over Blewett Pass. It took a lot of red vines to coax me over that mountain pass under the hot, hot sun so you can bet they’ll be in my jersey pocket tomorrow whether it’s 90 degrees or a traditional Day 2 kinda day. 

Tomorrow's Day 2 ride is dedicated to the acts of courage pervasive in the second decade of AIDS in the world. Ryan White, the young hemophiliac banned from public school when diagnosed, lost his fight with AIDS in 1990. The young man had put such a human face on AIDS stigma in a time when services were so desperately needed that Congress soon after passed the Ryan White Care Act. Although it has struggled to survive numerous budget cuts, the Ryan White Care Act continues to this day to make help available to persons affected by HIV.

Princess Diana held an AIDS baby and the world watched. Then she dedicated her very public life to AIDS advocacy.

At the 1992 Republican National Convention, Mary Fisher, an HIV-positive woman, admonished her party for their negligence in the face of the growing HIV and AIDS epidemic:

“We have killed each other with our ignorance, our prejudice, and our silence. We may take refuge in our stereotypes, but we cannot hide there long, because HIV asks only one thing of those it attacks. Are you human? ” -Mary Fisher
The FDA approved several new drugs found to be helpful when combined into individually customized “drug cocktails” for those with AIDS but they offered little help to those infected with HIV but not yet showing symptoms of AIDS. I have personal experience with the heroes of this scenario. Most had cheated death once upon receiving their AIDS diagnosis so were grateful for the extra months – maybe a few years – and the quality of life improvement offered by combination drug therapy but they knew a cure was out of their reach. They offered their bodies for every possible human trial, carried pamphlets to friends and public places to advocate for safe sex and HIV testing, told their story and fought to their dying day that others could avoid their fate. My brother, Bret, was one of these heroes, as were several others whose example we seek to carry on – Peter Harding, Donald David Fehrenbach, Phil Zwickler – but theirs are only a few of the very many acts of courage in this period of AIDS history.

With gratitude to the Avert AIDS Timeline for reminding us of the many heroes fighting through the peaks and valleys to make AIDS history.

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