Thursday, July 21, 2022

Reflections in Gratitude - 2022 AV200 Epilogue


The impact of your generosity to rid the world of HIV/AIDS is more evident than you might imagine. When I experience that impact, I wish you could hear it with my ears and see it with my eyes because I struggle to do it justice in the retelling though I will certainly try.

The Puget Sound Riders last travelled to Atlanta for the AIDS Vaccine 200 in 2019. We’d kept in touch and participated virtually through the COVID years but the time away had its influence on the ride and its participants. Only half of our usual team foursome was available to travel this year, had done very little road training and knew we’d struggle to finish each 100-mile day; we also knew that wasn’t our main objective. You gave. Steady donors and newcomers, family, friends, former teammates, and strangers gave like never before and kept giving through the weeks following our May event. So far, you’ve contributed to more than $140,000 for HIV/AID research at Emory Vaccine Center this year. Congratulations and thank you!

The roughly 150 people that gathered at Emory University for the 2022 AIDS Vaccine 200 were a humbler lot with far fewer strong racers and more relay participants. The tone had mellowed somewhere in the fog of a new pandemic that brought on reflections of the pandemic we still fight to live through; some have fought it a very long time. It’s now 27 years since the deaths of my brother, Bret, and my teammate Mary’s brother, Peter, and 25 years since Mary and I discovered that fact when we met on the start line of our very first cycling event to end AIDS. I think we knew then that our brothers had unfinished business with this virus, and we’d found a way to carry on their work.

Bret never knew he had HIV. In the 80s, people hardly understood or could agree how the virus was transmitted. Bret was diagnosed on what should have been his deathbed in a Tokyo hospital; his HIV had already progressed to AIDS and he was lucky to survive that illness. By the kindness of his doctors, Bret able to slip out of Japan and sneak back into America since it was illegal to be in one and cross into the other with HIV. COVID travel restrictions brought those memories flooding back. Remember how anxious people were to get COVID travel restrictions lifted? The United States was one of the last developed countries in 2010 to lift its travel ban on those testing positive for HIV from entering the US. The ban had been in effect for 22 years.

Bret and I had an uncomfortable but necessary conversation about his final wishes at an airport fast food table in the middle of the night on our way to DC. Bret knew he was living on borrowed time and volunteered for every treatment trial available from a desire to help others and desperately wanted to donate his entire body to medical study at his alma mater, the University of Washington; they turned him down. He was devastated. The week after Bret died, I took a big box of leftover pills to his doctor, prepared to plead with him to give the drugs to someone who couldn’t afford them. Dr. Shalit gratefully accepted the pricey pills and did just that. A person infected with HIV today must remain diligent with their healthcare but can now count their daily medication regimen on one hand instead of by the handful.

The infrastructure built to study HIV, from the lab to global human trials is now highly regarded and utilized in collaborative health studies of many kinds – immunology, cancer, healthcare delivery and public policy to name a few. Last week I met the local bakery owner whose day job is scientific research on genetic variants that alter immune response and lead to an auto-immune disease. She admitted that as much as we all want HIV eradicated, her work is made easier by testing theories on the more dynamic HIV than on any other virus that attacks the immune system. The Emory Vaccine Center took pride in their contributions to the rapid development of COVID vaccines. Today’s message on how to recognize and avoid the spread of monkeypox is being delivered over communication channels that weren’t available 30 years ago and to ears that are now more accustomed to listening.

Bret didn’t want people to know he had AIDS because it would cause them to jump to the conclusion that he was gay - a social death sentence. Last month I made a trip to walk among the largest display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in San Francisco history. Each of the 3,000 panels held the name of someone who died of HIV/AIDS; each told a story of a person who was loved, celebrated and missed. I made my way to a tent at the far end which was accepting new panels to be stitched into the quilt which now includes more than 50,000 individually sewn panels and 110,000 names. The back of the area was set up with several tables, scissors, needle, thread and piles of fabric panels – newly completed additions, starter background pieces for those wanting to get started and unfinished panels for volunteers to lovingly complete. A couple of those were laid out on tables surrounded by people who felt compelled to sit and stitch a while. I joined them. It was a mostly contemplative exercise periodically broken by someone lifting a memory, a sorrow, a hope. In the background was a steady flow of people in their 60s and 70s with an armful of fabric admitting something like “He needs to be included but I just couldn’t finish it”. We took the bundle from one person, laid it out on the table and 4 of us helped her finish the square in time for the formal
donation ceremony. In doing so, we learned about “Bear”, her friend and castmate

panel for Bear
in 80s Broadway musicals. We laughed, sang and could feel Bear honored by her design and testimony to his talent and friendship. Another story was told of a couple very interested in honoring their son with a panel until it was explained that the purpose of the quilt was to display to future generations that “never again will a community be harmed because of fear, silence, discrimination, or stigma”. The couple was too afraid of how their own generation would react to knowing their son had died of HIV/AIDS. They returned later that afternoon and asked for a starter panel.

Serendipitous meetup w/Chad & Toby, ride mate, donor, friend

My mother was a master quilter. She made each of her children and grandchildren at least one quilt. I have Bret’s quilt of beautiful blues interspersed with masses of big-eyed frogs reminiscent of the ones he drew as a child. My family never made an AIDS quilt panel for Bret. Not because we were ashamed to display his name in that way but (this is my guess) because Bret didn’t want that. I think he’d feel differently now. It’s hard for me to imagine exactly how Bret would have responded to the evolving acceptance of his unconventional lifestyle. I do know he would be happier, less afraid and not have to travel so far to feel safe and accepted.

I’ve been honored to witness the results of your generous support over the past 25 years. Our progress is real and should be celebrated, yet our grasp on it remains tenuous. AIDS is not cured, HIV is still considered a global pandemic and hard-won laws can be too easily set aside, yet I remain hopeful every time I look back and see how far we have come. Maybe it’s time Bret had a quilt panel.

P.S. Happy birthday, Bret 

Monday, May 9, 2022

How Are You?

 No really, how ARE you?

Can anyone honestly claim to have avoided the trauma of COVID-19, only to be eclipsed by a modern-day world war? For me, the last 2 years put all previous ones in a whole new light, and ultimately that has been good, and necessary. Life carried on, bringing with it many unexpected twists and turns. Important constants rose to the surface; constants that make me whole, bring me joy and give me purpose in these unpredictable circumstances. One of those constants is bringing an end to that other pandemic; the one that has no vaccine or cure. HIV.

I’ll admit my immediate reaction to news of a global pandemic, daily body counts and the global race to make an effective vaccine raised a little resentment. Where was all this media, compassion and urgency when HIV was eradicating entire generations? Oh right, HIV was spread by unacceptable behaviors. No judgment there #sarcasm. The feeling was fleeting.

An important lesson learned in my decades-long endeavor to end HIV/AIDS is to seek out the progress, however small, and rejoice in each one. That skill pulled me quickly off that pity pot as soon as the world was reintroduced to Dr. Anthony Fauci, a personal hero of mine for his early and tenacious contributions to end HIV/AIDS. At that moment I was confident the research of past decades, research to which you and I contribute on a regular basis, would save the day.

Soon to follow were public messages from researchers and docs I’ve come to know through the AIDS Vaccine 200 and its Emory Vaccine Center beneficiary. Emory’s Dr. Carlos Del Rio most recently spoke on the effect of COVID-19 on children. Dr. Mark Mulligan ran the Emory Hope Clinic and forged strong ties with the global HVTN (HIV Vaccine Trials Network) in his 30+ years running vaccine trials and was tapped to expedite global COVID-19 vaccine trials from his latest post at NYU. The last time we traveled to Atlanta, Dr. Steven Bosinger gave our PSR team an enthusiastic tour of his genomics lab and the new “toaster-size” device that can genetically map thousands of samples in about the time it takes to toast bread - massively faster than past methods. That method, used to investigate HIV’s unpredictable behavior in various populations, was quickly applied to COVID-19. The list goes on.

An HIV vaccine may remain elusive but the research is saving lives in new ways. What is learned from this new deadly virus may well hold the key to ending old ones, like HIV. 

 “An HIV vaccine is one of the holy grails. I’ve often said I can’t retire until we have one.” - Dr. Mark Mulligan, personally heard many times and quoted on his NYU bio 

This weekend I’m thrilled to return to Emory University for the AIDS Vaccine 200. My excitement isn’t so much for the pedaling - 200 miles is a long way and I could be in better cycling shape - but for the chance to personally thank these tenacious researchers, hear their stories of the last two years and experience their enthusiasm for the progress to come. Please join me with your donation right here! Every contribution is a meaningful one that I pray gives you a sense of accomplishment and ignites hope. It is good, and necessary.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Spring Training Begins!


Sunday, November 28, 2021

The Bridge Between Gratitude and Hope

Thank you. Thank you for acknowledging the power of a virus to ravage lives. Thank you for extending compassion to every human being, protecting yourself and those around you. Thanks for seeking the truth from experts, asking questions and sharing facts to squelch fear. Thank you for supporting the research, medicine, clinics and care workers committed to prevention, treatment and easing pain. Thanks for giving, and giving, and giving again. 

Decades of tenacious attention to ending HIV/AIDS supplies an arsenal of practices for fighting viral enemies like COVID-19 and fuels the spirit of hope for which I’m most grateful on this bridge between Thanksgiving and World AIDS Day. Thank you for feeding hope on this journey.

Emory Vaccine Center thanks 2021 donors

Action Cycling Atlanta brings back their 2-day AIDS Vaccine 200 for 2022 and the Puget Sound Riders will return to take on the 200-mile weekend in Atlanta. Please join us with your bike or your spirit, your dollars and your tenacious attention to ending HIV/AIDS.

Thank you

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Many Roads - One Journey

A year of options on the same journey. 100% of your donation makes a difference in making AIDS history. You decide how.

You know the drill. Coronavirus 2019, aka COVID-19, alters yet another planned event and cancellation is not an option. Take that tenacity, inject some creativity and the 2021 AIDS Vaccine 200 carries on, more accessible than ever.  

No doubt you haven't missed the irony of a new deadly virus leading to a pandemic in desperate need of a vaccine. Sadly, it won't be the last. But did you ever imagine that every ounce of generosity you've directed to Emory HIV/AIDS vaccine research would bring us a COVID-19 vaccine at record speed? It's true! Take a minute to bask in that unexpected and wildly welcome success.

At the January AV200 2021 kick-off party, via Zoom of course, two of our most prominent Emory Vaccine Center HIV/AIDS researchers, Dr. Rama Amara and Dr. Steven Bosinger (aka Mario) enthusiastically shared Emory contributions to COVID vaccine readiness: expertise in immune system response and memory, virus blockers to halt replication or lessen its impact on the body, test methods and a massive global human vaccine testing infrastructure. And their contributions continue.

Those two researchers and their colleagues are more than AV200 beneficiaries; they are part of the community. They are family. So the inevitable question wasn't unexpected - How could the COVID vaccine be produced so quickly yet we're still waiting for an HIV vaccine? We already knew the answer and do not doubt that HIV/AIDS vaccine research at Emory has ever taken a backseat to fighting COVID, SARS, Ebola or any other globally infectious disease. Quite the opposite. The broad stroke required to achieve monumental progress against the brutally nasty Human Immunodeficiency Virus is the backbone on which other, more amateur viruses have been tamed. Yet Rama and Steven heard our hearts' speak and added theirs as well. It's important to celebrate the wins along the way, because the road is long and we will not falter; we will prevail.

2020 was an especially hard year for literally everyone in the world. As we work our way back to some sense of normalcy, we are mindful of those still struggling. I want your contribution and recognize such a gift can come in many forms, each one welcome on this road to making AIDS history. Your prayers and kind words are as motivating as your dollars. If you're able to make a financial contribution, this year you have a choice as to how to direct 100% of all you give. Click Option 1 or 2 to navigate directly to my donation page for each choice.

Option 100% - Direct 100% to HIV/AIDS vaccine research at Emory Vaccine Center 

Option 2-way split - Split your donation 50-50 between vaccine research and 5 AIDS service organizations serving the greater Atlanta area. These ASOs took a financial beating in 2020 and Action Cycling Atlanta chose to include them more broadly with our 2021 ride. Do take the time to read about their good works whether or not you choose this option. If you live in another state, I encourage you to seek out ASOs near you and help them out too. We're all in this together - for the long haul!

Viruses and vaccines. Who knew we'd get more deeply personal practice. I hope what we've learned together along the way has made this round a bit easier to navigate. Stay well. Stay strong.

The 2021 AIDS Vaccine 200 ride begins tomorrow with 8 rides over 8 weeks. I'll be pedaling this new variation in a variety of ways. Follow along, come on out and pedal with me! Let's have some fun, making AIDS history!

Thank you.