AIDS/LifeCycle benefits, and is jointly produced by, San Francisco AIDS Foundation (Tax ID # 94-2927405) and Los Angeles LGBT Center (Tax ID # 95-3567895), each of which is a nonprofit, public benefit corporation recognized as tax exempt under IRS Code Section 501(c)(3). Donations to AIDS/LifeCycle are deductible for income tax purposes, to the extent permitted by law.
I'm Riding to End AIDS. "The Ride Of Your Life"
There are many reasons why I chose to ride on AIDS Lifecycle 2014 and many more why I chose to ride again in 2015.
The simplest explanation for riding this year was that as a physician and a bike aficionado, it made sense to ride for a good cause, but there were other reasons.
As a medical student, I saw AIDS hospital wards where death was the norm. I had just seen the Oscar winning movie "Dallas Buyers' Club." It was a moving story that touched me personally. I went to medical school in Dallas at exactly the same time the story of the movie takes place. As a busy student, I, as well as all of my classmates, were completely unaware that Mr. Woodroof's story was happening at our "teaching" hospital. For better or worse, back in the 80's, "teaching" hospitals were the norm for medical student and resident training. The death toll was mind boggling. It was as though people had been bitten by a snake for which there was no timely anti-venom. After years of practicing as an ophthalmologist, I had not paid much attention to HIV, because the eye diseases associated with HIV are hardly ever seen anymore because of the efficacy of anti-retroviral-therapy (ART). However, ART does not mean the problem is not just as daunting now as it was before. HIV is no longer a death sentence, but it is still relevant for many reasons. This year the Journal of the American Medical Association had one entire issue devoted to HIV. The number of new HIV infections in the US alone is 50,000 per year, and that number has not changed since the 1990's. In the US 16% of seropositive HIV individuals do not know their status and account for 45% of new infections. The cost of anti-retroviral therapy is $25,000 per patient per year, and the average life time cost of this treatment is $400,000. These numbers are a testament to the fact that we are not doing enough to make a preventable disease extinct. It is clear that economic factors play a great role in our inability to reach our goal. If these are not enough reasons to want to help, I am not sure what they would be.
I joined Traci Dinwiddie's team. Traci, a seasoned actress, has a world-wide following and managed to put together a team of cyclists, roadies, and virtual cyclists totaling 76 members. She attracted women from Russia, Australia, Norway, Germany, France, Italy, England, Switzerland, Austria and from all over the continental US and Puerto Rico. The team bonded via Facebook way before the ride, and by the time we actually met in California, we were already a family of sorts. In 2014 Traci was the third highest fund raiser in the history of ALC with the team raising over $300,000. As captain of the team, she proved to be a formidable yet gentle force with a great sense of humor and a big heart.
The ride itself is a monumental logistical achievement. From orientation day to the finish line, every eventuality had been anticipated and planned for. PThe spirit of ALC is unlike anything I've ever been a part of. On Inauguration Day, Greg Sroda, the director of ALC gave a speech in which he said "you will be forever changed" after this ride. It sounded like a tall order, but with tears flowing freely from exhaustion, sadness over having lost a loved one to HIV, and the excitement of having had the courage to throw ourselves into this life-affirming experience there was no room for cynicism. We were under one roof at San Francisco's Cow Palace with 2340 cyclists, hundreds of roadies, and volunteers from every corner of the planet all nervous and excited ready to begin our journey. Imagine 2340 cyclists waiting at the gate. It was a slow process that seemed insane, but once again the spirit of the ride was clear. This was not a race and we were all there not just to raise funds but help each other achieve whatever goal each participant had set for himself or herself.
The city of San Francisco came out to cheer us on, and it became clear to me that this event was a celebration of life in every sense of the term over a subject so somber as HIV and it's continued death toll. Only ALC could pull this off. This year was a record-breaking fund raiser: over $15 million dollars. There was no lack of entertainment and laughter. Every few miles performers would be dancing to the beat of a boom box in outrageous costumes telling every cyclist "you are my hero."
I saw riders push other riders uphill with one hand while holding on to their own handlebars with the other hand. People in crazy costumes would hand out twizzlers along the road to keep the calories going for the cyclists. Then there were rest stops with endless choices, lunch, more rest stops, then dinner at the campsite. The mobile showers at the campsites were labeled: male, female, and gender neutral. The medical tent was open at every stop. Massage, chiropractic services, and yoga classes were available at every campsite. I was lucky I didn't really need any of the services, but a massage was hard to refuse. During dinner every evening, we were gathered under an enormous tent where the directors of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the LA LGTB Center would have a report and photos on a giant screen of all the interesting and quirky happenings of the day. There were stories about riders from all over the world who had experienced such harrowing events in their lives that would render most of us handicapped, but these people were riding to celebrate survival. HIV Positive riders proudly wore their " HIV+ " jerseys without the fear of being stigmatized. On the fourth evening, we received the news that Edna, a veteran ALC cyclist of 13 years, had suffered a cardiac event during the ride and was under life-support. She died a day later, and on day six, we all wore her cyclist number 1371, on our helmets in addition to our own to symbolize her arrival to the finish line for her 13th and final time. Once again, the timing of this gesture was spot on. Yet another example of the heart and brains behind this event. Roadies at bike parking had been assigned to distribute the stickers with Edna's number to everyone who left on a bike.
The last day of the ride was from Ventura Beach to LA. Arriving at the finish line in LA was just as inspiring as leaving San Francisco after the opening ceremony; a touching and intelligent end to the one-week celebration of life that sealed my decision to participate again in 2015.
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