Stories from the Road Bike: The Women of AIDS/LifeCycle 2010

Stories from  the Road Bike: The Women of AIDS/LifeCycle 2010

This Sunday more that 2,500 cyclists and roadies will embark on the AIDS/LifeCycle, a 545-mile journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise awareness and funding for HIV/AIDS. Now, in its 9th year, the event is expected to raise more than $11 million for services the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center and San Francisco AIDS Foundation provide.

Two years ago I (Tracy, SheWired's editor), saddled up and went the distance on my shiny Cannondale road bike. It began as a journey of discovery for me and an opportunity to prove I can accomplish what I set my mind to do. Along the way, I encountered POS Pedalers and people who had lost loved ones to the epidemic. The narratives that unfolded over the course of the ride brought me back to that incipient / insidious time in the 1980's when I was coming of age and encountering so many of my gay male friends who were succumbing to the virus. From there on out, the ride became less about my personal sense of accomplishment and more about helping to find ways to ensure those dark days are over for people with HIV/AIDS.

SheWired has compiled some inspirational tales from women who are heading out on the open road with nothing but a metal frame and two wheels between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Nathalie J Valdez
Age:  34
City of Residence:  Los Angeles
My bike:  Cannondale CAAD 9 for women.

I originally signed-up for the AIDS/LifeCycle because my friend was doing it and I really didn't apply more meaning than this.  I've worked in HIV/AIDS for the last eight years.  I am a mental health clinician and work in a maternal, pediatric medical site for people living with or impacted by someone living with HIV/AIDS.  I love what I do, but being so consumed in the clinic day in and day out, I couldn't place any other meaning on the ALC beside friendship and recreation.  

After registering for ALC, I began training just because I'm committed to what I sign up for.  I enjoyed the training as well as the coaches.  However, it wasn't until I met my fist POS Pedaler that I really understood why I was doing this:  for my patients; to fight the stigma of HIV/AIDS that so often is the reason why my patients come to see me; for a better future for my niece and nephew as well as all our children; for my friends, family members and/or community members who live in silence and/or shame with their diagnosis; for my cultural and racial community, Latino, not identified and who believe that they are not impacted with HIV/AIDS.  I, now, know why I ride.  It is this that gets my through training when the climbing gets tough or the weather uncomfortable and I'm so done with the spandex.  It is this that I know will get me through the seven day ride from San Fran to LA.


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Doreen Gonzales

I'm 53 years old. I've participated in California AIDS Ride 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,and when the name changed to AIDSLIFECYCLE I continued to support the Jeffery Goodman Special Care Clinic.  This will be my 17th year and I'm riding for the same reason I road the first time in 1994, to help educate our society, that being HIV positive is not a gay disease!  We are of one race, human race.  There's a place in this world for everyone and there's no need to push out anyone because you feel they don't fit, we all fit.

Jessica Courter

I am 38 years old, from Santa Monica by way of the Midwest. At one point I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to do this, but I didn't want to forfeit my 55 registration fee. Instead,  I bought a new Trek bike and have probably spent good $3000 on this new sport!  I am currently part of the team, Lady and the Tramps.  I am one girl with 12 gay boys which we have been training for this ride together. The 13 of us have become so close of the course of this ride...that we are planning more rides after the 545 miles. I personally decided to do this ride because I just don't want to lose another friend to this disease.

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Brenda Olson

I'm a 27-year-old recent medical school graduate from St. Paul, MN. I am interested in helping increase the visibility of female and lesbian riders in the AIDS lifecycle.  I decided to participate in the AIDS Lifecycle as my medical school graduation present to myself. I did two years of AIDS clinical trials research in Sacramento prior to medical school and always wanted to participate but never had the time/money. My decision was finalized when a good friend of mine from medical school got a needle stick and rapid HIV testing came back positive. Although the test turned out to be a false negative and he's fine, the experience was very emotinoal for him and his wife. I'll be participating in the ride with my partner, another medical student. We'll be riding our tandem road bike, see pictures. The kid on the bike is not ours, its my nephew.


Ami J. Flori 

Age 37, from Riverside, CA

A few months ago my good friend and prior ALC rider, Agina, told me about the amazing experience she had when she participated in an AIDS/LifeCycle ride a couple years ago.  I heard about the challenge, the camaraderie, the highs, the lows, and the pride that comes with completing such an event.  She pretty much dared me to ride in 2010 - and anyone who knows me also knows that I don't back down from a dare lightly.

I am not HIV positive.  None of my friends are HIV positive.  I have never lost anyone to HIV/AIDS.  Not everyone is as lucky as I am.  AIDS/LifeCycle is a fabulous way to help those less fortunate than myself.  Even better that I get to do it on a bike while having the adventure of a a lifetime. 

I'm riding a Trek Pilot 5.2. 


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Dr. Gayle Weiston-Serdan

High School Teacher of Fine Arts
Adjunct Faculty of Music at University of La Verne

Upland is my hometown.

This is my first ride!  I have definitely been training to get into shape for this ride and I am riding AIDS LifeCycle 9 for my brother Wayne.

As an adopted child, I never knew who my real siblings were. When I finally found my brother, he had died of HIV/AIDS. I never had the pleasure of meeting him personally but was able to learn about him through one of my other siblings.  The fact that his parents wouldn't provide care for him while he was battling HIV/AIDS has always haunted me.  Although there were seven siblings, there was only one brother and his wife that would care for him in their home until his death.

I am riding AIDS LifeCycle for the first time on a tandem road bike with my partner/wife of six years Torie Weiston-Serdan.  Together we want to double HIV/AIDS awareness, and double the commitment to raise desperately needed funds to help humankind. I am honored and humbled to ride.  Thank you.


Julie Siegel

Last Fall, while having dinner with friends, one of them – Ryan – suggested we do the AIDS/LifeCycle.  This came out of a casual conversation where we both learned that each of us had started taking spin classes.  Ryan mentioned the AIDS/LifeCycle (or ALC as I'll refer to it from here on out) somewhat nonchalantly, but being the crazy wild-hair-up-my-ass kind of girl that I am, I was like, “Okay, let’s do it!”  Half serious, half joking.  I know Ryan felt the same.  Of course when he took it one step further and actually REGISTERED for the ride AND got his first donation, I was like “okay, game ON!”  I will admit to being SLIGHTLY competitive, so when the first donation popped up on Ryan’s Participant Page, I knew I had to move fast! 

I had always wanted to run a marathon, but being slightly able to even run around the block, well… I thought, at the very least I can PEDAL, right!!??  The ALC – all 7 days and 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles, on a bike no less – seemed like a real possibility.  Little did I know what I was in for!  I decided to do the ALC first and foremost for the amazing charity aspect, but also for the mental, emotional, and very physical personal challenge it represented.  The ALC, I thought, would undoubtedly be the biggest physical challenge of my life and it was – or I should say that training for it has been.  I leave for the ride in 3 days!!!!!

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While I've struggled with weight since childhood, I’ve always been somewhat physically active, but never anything like this.  I figured if anything the ALC would help me get into the best physical shape of my life.  While I did not lose any weight despite the hundreds of miles I clocked training, I did gain immense confidence and trust in my body’s ability to not only perform but also survive heart-bursting climbs – something I had always feared.  Before the ALC and because of my weight, I had always feared pushing myself too hard physically for fear that I would have a heart attack.  Now I do what I often call “these crazy climbs” and I’m FINE!

That being said and as I mentioned before, my primary reason for doing the ALC is fighting the fight for those living with HIV and AIDS.  HIV/AIDS has always been a cause dear to my heart, having volunteered many years at AIDS Project Los Angeles in high school and college.  I had never personally lost anyone to the disease, but had an overwhelming feeling of it just being wrong, like how could this happen?  How could we LET this happen!!??  It was dumbfounding.  Something so preventable, yet widespread, and with no cure in sight.  It made me angry and frustrated, and I embraced the cause wholeheartedly.

I felt the same way just a couple of weeks ago, when a Facebook friend – someone I had met on my first 100-mile ride, the Paul Hulse Positive Pedalers Century Ride – posted a picture of the palm of his hand with his HIV meds in it.  7 pills, roughly $70 a day.  For those without insurance and even those WITH insurance, it’s completely unaffordable.  And that’s where the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and AIDS/LifeCycle come in.  This is where the funds raised go, not to mention the ever-important research and education.

Needless to say, from my very “test ride” – 17 miles from Marina del Rey to Manhattan Beach – to 200 miles to Santa Barbara and back, preparing for the ALC has been quite a journey.  I should mention, by the way, that I chose to partake in this journey alone – without my awesome husband, Adam – because it was something I wanted to do on my own, for myself, just me.  Not that I haven’t had Ryan alongside me the entire time…pushing me, motivating me, and inspiring me; listening to my endless chatter, bitching, moaning and paranoia; answering all of my ridiculous questions; and reading a daily onslaught of text messages, emails, and instant messages from me about everything from tires to butt butter to my aching “hoo-hah.”  You can only do this with a gay male, of course!  Our excellent training ride leader of Team Ventura, Casey Keller, has referred to Ryan once or twice as my ‘Gay Husband.’  And that he most certainly has been!

My journey to participate in the ALC has been nothing short of hard, but as Tom Hanks said in “A League of Their Own” and Casey Keller also reminded me, “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.  It’s the hard that makes it great.”  And it’s true!  If it wasn’t hard, I wouldn’t feel the sense of accomplishment and knowing I do now.  While I still feel unready for the ride – which is in 5 days mind you – I don’t think there is any more I could have done.  It has been a massive commitment and huge shift in my priorities. 

Now for my “bitch paragraph”! 

Socially, I haven’t seen many of my friends in months.  Between work, life, training for ALC, cycling all weekend long and sleep, I haven’t had a lot of down time.  While my husband is fully supportive, training for the ALC definitely cut into our time together and created a little added stress in our marriage.  I know he’s heard enough about cycling to last a lifetime!  Financially, not only did I purchase a road bike, but as a first-time cyclist, all of the necessary gear that comes along with it – cycling shoes, jerseys, padded shorts, arm and leg warmers, a helmet, gloves, Camelbak, bike computer, water bottles, chain cleaner, you name it!  Physically, there were days that I would come home and sob like a baby.  (I’m surprised the neighbors never called animal control services, I sounded like a dying dog!)  Smacking down on hard concrete – the massive bruises and blood – is NOT my idea of fun!  Not to mention the pressure I felt (self imposed, of course) to keep up with the group during training rides – worrying about who was passing me, who I was holding up behind me.  It was very stressful.  Mentally, the self doubt – the thought of “Am I going to be able to do this?” – was (and still is) a constant.  But, it also opened my mind to new possibilities.  Deep down I now know that I CAN do it, because I AM doing it!

Of course none of this “hard” could ever compare to the hard that those living with HIV and AIDS know.  And even those NOT living with HIV and AIDS.  Not everyone has the luxury of time, money, or even LEGS to participate in such a ride, and I am fully aware of that.  The ALC is truly a gift and I know how fortunate I am to be a part of such an amazing, committed, caring, loving, and COMICAL group of people, who are always happy to help – whether it be riding by your side, helping you fix a flat tire, lending you a pair of gloves, sharing their butt butter (very important!), or talking about your “private parts.”  The latter, of course, being my favorite! 



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