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My name is J.R., and this June will mark 12 years since I last rode this ride. I am returning to not only help this cause but to pay back a debt I feel I own and to help rekindle a passion I had lost.
My first ride was ALC 5 in 2006. I signed up shortly after being diagnosed with HIV myself. I was ashamed and felt I should have "known better." With everything out there about HIV at the time, people my age, I was 25, should not be getting the disease. But all the information in the world did not stop the disease from spreading and continuing to spread.
A good friend of mine, Uncle Larry, who was also a first-time rider, asked if I was going to ride as a POSPED. The POSPEDS, short for Positive Pedalers, were, and still are, an amazing group of men and women who ride with flags on their bikes and jersey's that declare their HIV status to all. Their motto is "Eliminating sigma through our positive public example." It had only been a couple of months into my diagnosis, and I was not ready to be that person. In months leading up to the ride, the documentary of ALC 4 in 2005, The Ride: Seven Days to End AIDS, came out. It followed several riders on their journey during the event. One rider, Jon Garrison, was riding as a POSPED and he was young like me. This really began the acceptance of my diagnosis.
Fast forward to orientation day, Uncle Larry and I are walking around the venue after completing registration, when we come up to the POSPED table. Larry says he is going to sign up and if I didn't want to, it was ok. I stood off to the side, and one of the members behind the table ask me to come over. I don't know how he knew, or I don't remember how it came up regarding my status, but this man handed me a POSPED jersey and flag and told me just in case I changed my mind.
The next morning on the ride out, I mustered the courage and put on the jersey with Uncle Larry. We arrived at the cow palace, and we attached the flag to my bike. My heart was racing. What was I doing? We entered the opening ceremonies, and the POSPEDS were divided on either side of the stage, waiting for our cue to walk in front of the stage, and everyone at opening ceremonies, holding flags and being identified as this year's POSPEDS. As I was standing with Larry on one side of the stage, I overheard several men talking about how they had been diagnosed for years and had been riding for years, but this was their first time riding as a POSPED. I joined the circle and listened to these men's stories. All of them in their 40's and 50's. One turned to me and asked how old I was. "25," I said. He asked if this was my first ride, and I said, "Yes." He then asked how long I had been HIV positive. I froze for a brief second, forgetting I was there with them, wearing the jersey. "Almost eight months," I said. Their mouths dropped open and they were floored that I was where I was so early in my diagnosis. Our cue was given, we walked in front of the stage, to thundering applause. All that weight of feeling I was damaged had lifted. From that day forward, I did not see my diagnosis as a burden, and I could do something to make a difference.
After that ride that year, I decided wanted to do something different with my life. I went back to school with the plan of becoming a therapist. I signed up for the ride again and became a training ride leader. I joined the board of the Positive Pedalers and led POSPED training rides in SoCal. That person I wasn't ready to become, I literally became over night. Fast forward to Orientation Day for ALC 6, in 2007. I am standing in line, again with Uncle Larry, and another good friend, Scott, when a rider about my age comes up and taps me on the shoulder. I turned around, and he had a POSPED jersey and flag in his hand. He told me that he rode last year and he too was newly diagnosed. He had the same shame about being young and HIV positive that I did. He did not wear the jersey or flag, but he saw that I had and decided this year he was going to. My courage had done for him, what Jon's courage did for me.
After that ride, I joined ALC as a cyclist rep. I was a cyclist rep for three events. It was an amazing job. During this time, I was honored to co-produce, with Uncle Larry and our friend Chad, an 180-mile, 2-day cycling event called the Baby Dragon Ride. It was to honor a friend, Hunter Allen, who committed suicide and raised money for the LA Gay and Lesbian Center's homeless youth, mental health, and crystal meth recovery services, all things Hunter, and myself, struggled with at one point in our lives. That first event raised close to $90k, with a big sponsorship from E!.
After the end of that third event, in the final year and a half, I was working for ALC during what would have been my fourth event as a cyclist rep, I was making some very poor life choices, and I was not present. I was also trying to produce a second Baby Dragon Ride and knowing full well that I was trying to raise money for crystal meth services while using and trying to keep it secret. It was painful. That Baby Dragon Ride did not raise as much as it did the previous year. The job of the cyclist representative is to motivate and encourage those that sign up to raise the money. I wasn't contributing to the team, I was neglecting my cyclists, and I am sure I cost both events, ALC and the Baby Dragon Ride, that year. I was on the verge of getting fired and said I needed help. The ALC staff and the LA Gay and Lesbian Center did all they could to help me, but it wasn't enough. I eventually quit, in lieu of termination, in shame. HR allowed me to come to the office after hours to clear out my desk and not have to face anyone. I was jobless. Eventually insuranceless and had to rely on the Center For my medical care. The same services only months before I was helping raise money for, now I was a patient of. It was one of the darkest times in my life, but it didn’t stay that way.
Fast forward again several years, eventually things got better for me, and I turned my life around. Today, I have a great job, amazing friends, and a loving boyfriend. But even with all that, I have lost sight of what that first ride did for me and why I wanted to do something for good with my life. I still don't have the feeling back and that person 12 years ago feels like a stranger. I am not giving up and I am determined to find him again.
I never thought I would do the ride again, but here I am.
I ride to raise awareness that this disease is not over.
I ride to fund programs that spread that awareness and stop the spread of HIV.
I ride to eliminate stigma through my positive public image.
I ride to fundraise to repay a debt I believe I owe.
I ride to regain the passion for life I once had.
Committing to this, I have kicked off my fundraising with a $1000 self-donation. I am looking for additional people to match this gift, in order of reaching my goal of $10,000. This could be done by donating $1000 yourself, by donating $500 and finding one other person to do the same, or by donating $250 and find three others to do the same. Ultimately, any amount you choose to donate, and any amount of involvement given, will be appreciated. I hope you consider giving to my ride and helping me reach this goal.
Thank you for your consideration.