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Cyclists Gear Up for AIDS/LifeCycle Ride

by Megan Barnes
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Saturday May 12, 2012
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Next month, more than 2,200 cyclists from across the country will embark on a week-long bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles in hopes of raising $11 million to fund critical HIV/AIDS services in California.

Now in its 11th year, AIDS/LifeCycle is a 545-mile ride that will kick off on June 3. It is one of the largest AIDS fundraisers in the world. AIDS/LifeCycle benefits programs run by the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

"I think sometimes when it gets a little bit older as a cause, it’s not as front of mind for a lot of people, but the ride is as important as it’s always been," said David Rae of Los Angeles.

The 34-year-old cyclist began participating in the ride five years ago and is co-captain of Team Popular (named after the song from the hit musical "Wicked"), which hopes to raise a quarter of a million dollars this year.

HIV/AIDS programs in California were hit hard in 2009 when Sacramento lawmakers cut $83 million in funding amid the state’s budget crisis.

"Their budgets have been decimated at the state level, so this definitely helps," said Rae.

He and 56 teammates from across the United States and abroad will be among thousands biking 80 miles a day down the California coast, raising awareness as well as funds.

"I think one reason the event is super important is because it’s literally a giant mass and community moving through California in a very visual way demonstrating the bringing together of all different types of people to fight HIV/AIDS," said Jason Krech, 32, of Seattle.

For Krech, an avid cyclist, the ride is a perfect fusion of his passion for cycling and HIV/AIDS philanthropy.

"When you go out and do all this fundraising, inevitably you get the opportunity to talk to people who maybe don’t have the most up-to-date information about HIV/AIDS and you get to have informative, knowledge-sharing conversations," he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. Nearly one in 10 of them live in California, which has the second largest number of cumulative AIDS cases in the country.

Funds from the ride will support programs ranging from medical care and prevention, to mental health services, housing and HIV testing.

"With the budget cuts, the grants that the Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation are able to get are dwindling, so the AIDS/LifeCycle is becoming more and more important," said Team Popular Co-Captain Bill Herman of West Hollywood.

The 25-year-old hadn’t ridden a bike until Rae asked him to join the ride three years ago. Now it’s become a major yearly event for him.

"A lot of times people do get worried about the physical aspects of how difficult it is, but there’s such a diverse set of people," said Herman. "There are those rockstar triathletes, but there are also 65-year-old grandmothers who have been doing this for years. It’s not a competition or a race, it’s a ride."

The ride has gained many veteran cyclists and volunteers over the last 11 years; but also draws first-time riders looking to challenge themselves, help put an end to AIDS and honor loved ones.

First-time rider Stephen Macias of Los Angeles didn’t quite know what an undertaking into which he was getting himself when he decided to sign up this year. He believes, however, it’s worth all the effort.

"As much as I’m doing this to support the Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, I’m getting as much out of it personally," said Macias. "The commitment of our community and fellow Californians and Americans really shows what kind of people this country is made of and reinvigorates my hope."

Megan Barnes is a freelance journalist in Los Angeles. She regularly contributes to EDGE, San Pedro Today and was a founding editor of alternative UCSB newspaper The Bottom Line. More of her work can be found at www.megbarnes.com

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