Monday, July 15, 2013

The Finish Line

Saturday morning dawned warm and muggy as roughly 150 cyclists left Emory University on the 11th annual AIDS Vaccine 200. Almost immediately, our Puget Sound Riders team of Jon, Mary and I took an unexpected detour along the narrow winding roads of a nearby neighborhood. Jon powered up a sudden steep hill that stopped Mary when her chain jammed so I was riding solo when I saw it and had to stop. There on a fresh-cut lawn were 3 lounge chairs looking precisely as the scene I often describe of our 3 brothers, Bret, Peter, and Donald David, gathering again in their heavenly perch to watch the annual spectacle of siblings sweating it out to continue their journey to end AIDS.

The worthwhile detour added a few to our 100 mile day but we managed to stay dry and arrive at the Rock Eagle overnight in time for a quick shower before dinner. Tomorrow’s forecast was more ominous.

We got an early morning start to our return trip with foreboding clouds on the horizon. What’s a little rain for a Puget Sound Rider? Most of our training involves rain gear after all but this was no Seattle rain. This was what my Texas roots knew to be a gully-washer! Jon and I pulled into the first rest stop as lightening cracked over the field. We waited out the worst of it in a picnic shelter but soon after pedaling on, the deluge was so fierce cyclists were piled into every available crew vehicle and ferried over washed out roads to the next shelter where Emory grad students handed outfrozen bananas in a nod to the critical role of Yerkes’ primates in the quest for an HIV vaccine.

We rolled on at the next weather gap and passed Dr. Harriet Robinson, world renowned HIV vaccine scientist, standing under an umbrella at the corner, waving and thanking every cyclist passing by. A flat tire and 50 miles later, the storm began to bear down in earnest. My feet were floating in my shoes but I was warm and making progress as I slowed to stop at the intersection across from the afternoon rest stop and was startled by the loud simultaneously thunder clap and lightening flash as my foot hit the ground. Crossing the road to meet my team, I knew this was the end of our cycling day. 

On the long drive to the finish line, sitting on a towel in the back seat of a crew vehicle, I wondered why it’s so hard for me not to finish. An Emory University film crew interviewed our team at the post-ride celebration. When asked if I thought an HIV vaccine would ever become widely available, I blurted out an enthusiastic “yes” without missing a beat. What you won’t see on film is the vision I had at that moment of those 3 chairs and the sudden realization that everyone doesn’t get to reach the finish line. An HIV vaccine and AIDS cure might not happen in my lifetime but the end of AIDS will come, thanks to the contributions of each one traveling this road.

With gratitude for every person who supported the 2013 AIDS Vaccine 200 by contributing $255,000 for HIV vaccine research. And the angels rejoiced.

1 comment:

Steve said...

I love reading your blog posts. Thank you with all my heart.