This Sunday more that 2,500 cyclists and roadies will embark on the AIDS/LifeCycle 2011, 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. This year's LifeCycle marks a couple of milestones, including the event's 10-year anniversary and the 30 years since the first AIDS case was diagnosed.
Three years ago I saddled up and went the distance on my shiny Cannondale road bike. It began as a journey of discovery for me and as 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 coming out 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.
Last year SheWired ran stories about women who are embarking on the ride, which we fullied intended to replicate this year with new stories. While we are still looking to tell stories of courageous women we also encountered Team Potenza, a family of riders including Clarissa, whose Uncle Vic, who is HIV-positive, inspired her to become an HIV / AIDS activist. Clarissa shares her story, as does her father Al and her Uncle Vic. Below are just a few of the many inspirational tales of those who are heading out on the open road with nothing but a metal frame and two wheels under them from San Francisco and Los Angeles.
I have included the links to everyone's fundraising pages in their respective names should you wish to contribute to the ride.
Riding: A hand-me down Cannondale that's a veteran of the LifeCycle.
From: Los Angeles by way of North Carolina
Although this is my very first AIDS LifeCycle, my bike is a veteran on this course. I'm riding a Cannondale M-400 that belongs to Doreen Gonzales, an amazing woman who has ridden in every single ride for the past 17-years! In fact, this Cannondale is the very first bicycle she rode on from San Fran to LA back in 1994.
I actually had my own bike, however one month into training, it fell off the bike rack of my car onto the freeway and was destroyed!! That incident was SO traumatic that I decided I was going to quit the ride. It was only when I met and was inspired by Doreen, who loaned me her bike, that I decided to not give up, dig deeper, and really search for the reason I'm riding.
Seeing past photos and videos of the ALC, the one thing that struck me was there were very few riders who looked like me.
And after learning that AIDS is now one of the leading causes of death among young African American women and that African American women make up a disproportionate amount of new HIV cases, I realized that I MUST be part of the fight. And although AIDS knows no color or gender, and the human spirit of the ALC transcends all barriers, black women need to be visible and active as part of the solution. Thank you again Doreen for helping me to find my courage and my voice in this ride.
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Riding: A Trek Mountain Bike
From: Los Angeles
I'm 54 years old. I've participated in California AIDS Ride 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 and 8 and when the name changed to AIDS/LifeCycle, I continued to support the Jeffery Goodman Special Care Clinic. This will be my 18th year, and I'm riding for the same reason I rode 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.
Riding: Specialized: Allez
From: Originally from Albuquerque, NM but now from Los Angeles, CA
I'm doing the AIDS LifeCycle 10 to help make a difference in the lives of others. I am deeply inspired by stories of friends who are infected by this disease and who are living each day to the fullest. I have friends and family who have lost loved ones as well, so if I can help in any way toward finding a cure, every mile will be worth it. I am beyond grateful to each and every person who has sponsored me on this ride. Your donations are saving lives, and I thank you.
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Riding: Cannondale Synapse, Women's Specific Design
From: Los Angeles by way of Connecticut
When I rode 545 miles down the California coast in seven days back in 2008 it was something I set out to tackle, to prove to myself I could do . Now, while personal accomplishment is still certainly a piece of why I am riding, this time I am keeping those who benefit from the Center's HIV / AIDS services close at heart and hoping to raise the minimum-plus so that the Center can continue to be a vital resource for people who might not otherwise have access to treatment.
I wrote about my journey once I had finished the ride in 2008. Here are a few paragraphs that get at the crux of that experience:
A life-altering experience, I'm overwhelmed to have participated in the AIDS LifeCycle. Sure, I rode to prove it to myself that I could and, as a by-product, to tighten up and trim down. I was calling it, 'The Biggest Loser' 80 miles at a time. But it was the impromptu moments that made the experience unforgettable. An elementary school class in Santa Cruz stood on the sidewalk cheering us on and high-fiving as we rode by. Their teachers cheering along with them. I wondered if their teachers explained to the tykes why 2,500-plus cyclists were tearing through their town on a foggy Monday morning.
One morning after breakfast I wandered into the dedication tent. Photos of men and women who'd succumbed to AIDS and notes of remembrance were strewn on the walls. It brought me back to the 80's. We...I'm so isolated from those truly affected by the disease these days.
But the most affecting moment of my week arrived once I'd made it up 'Quad Buster.' I'd eaten less than I should have wanting to ensure that my efforts would bring about some shedding of pounds. Once I'd re-fortified partway up the hill, I successfully climbed my way to the pinnacle.
Once atop the hill I whipped out the Flip Cam to video blog it. There was Ginger Brewlay with her trailer near the top, a vision to behold really. Ginger, a drag queen with impeccable, over-the-top fashion sense explained that she cheers riders on because, having lived with HIV for 28 years and full-blown AIDS for 15, she can no longer ride.
Already emotional from beating 'Quad Buster,' exhausted from the previous days' rides and from Ginger's frank conversation, I was unprepared when she touched my arm and said thank you. 'The boys wouldn't have made it without our lesbian sisters.' That prescient moment galvanized the experience for me and it is the one I will forever remember.
Riding: Cannondale Six, Women's Specific Design
From: Los Angeles by way of Dallas, Texas
As a type 1 diabetic, I have a constant reminder of the importance of staying healthy, even with a lifelong illness that requires daily treatment. The increasing cost of healthcare is a major concern for myself and other people living with incurable illnesses.
It has been quite the journey preparing myself for the big ride. Aside from training to ride my bike all those miles, I have had to learn how to manage my diabetes while going through such intense exercise, and planning how to manage the ups and downs over seven straight days of riding nearly 100 miles each day.
But the benefits to my heath and knowledge are so minor in comparison to the great impact the funds I raise will have on the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS, and will bring us that much closer to finally having a cure.
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Riding: Specialized Sirrus
From: New York via Indiana
My name is Carissa Potenza, I’m 34, I live in New York City, originally from Indiana. This is my 1st year participating in the AIDS LifeCycle ride, and I’m riding with members of my family as “Team Potenza”. I am riding a Specialized Sirrus -- which is a “hybrid” bike — sorta road, sorta mountain, sorta touring…
The reason I ride: My Uncle, Vic McMannus, is HIV+. He rode many years ago and recently became very ill and was in a wheelchair. He has since, remarkably and courageously, rehabilitated himself and is ready to ride again!
We figured the best way to honor him and to show our pride was to ride alongside him and to raise some money! So, along with myself andUncle Vic, we’ll be riding with my 62-year-old dad (who has NEVER done ANYTHING like this, & has kicked butt getting into shape for the 1st time in a long time, in order to ride), and my 29-year-old brother (who is also a newbie to this kind of thing). I’m flying from NY to ride, my dad is flying from Indiana, my uncle from San Diego and my brother lives in Oakland, so he’s got a quick commute!
I personally have been involved in AIDS activism stuff in a “mild” way for many, many years. My Uncle Vic has been HIV+ since I was a kid and it’s been an important cause for me. I also lost a really fantastic teacher to AIDS while in high school and have known many others living with the disease through the years.
I worked in television and film for many years and I was involved in several productions and projects related to HIV/AIDS, including a series for HBO, an educational project for global use that was funded by the Gates Foundation & MAC AIDS, a few smaller documentaries, some stuff for MTV. I was also the Director of Programming for the NY AIDS Film Festival.
My brother Vic has had HIV and Aids for 20 years. He has "dodged the bullet" so many times, but each crisis has brought him to a new realization of his own inner strength. I have watched and helped him over several rough patches and I am ABSOLUTELY sure that he would not be here without all the new medical advances since his diagnosis. He has more pills to take than I care to think about, but after all these years, HE IS STILL HERE.
My daughter, Carissa champions his cause with every breath. She has been touched in her own life by the loss of beloved friends and teachers. So the motivation is simple; WE RIDE BECAUSE THEY NEED A CURE AND IT'S NOT HERE YET.
My brother is a great man and has strength beyond what I ever would have believed of the skinny kid I grew up with. He deserves a future as bright as anyone else, and we can help.
I am 63, and not an athlete, but I CAN DO THIS for my brother and others who are living with AIDS/HIV. Please HELP! Click on Aids/ALC Ride to donate.
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From: San Diego
I am Vic (Potenza) McMannus. I am the uncle of Carissa Potenza, and Nate Potenza and the brother of Al Potenza. Together we form "Team Potenza.”
I used to work at Dawn Media, publisher of Update a Gay and Lesbian newspaper that came out of San Diego. In late 1993 or we got a press release about a bike ride that was to be held the following May to benefit the Jeffrey Goodman Special Care Clinic of the Gay and Lesbian Center of Los Angeles. I read that article, and as I had been riding my bike to work everyday, I thought that I would like to do it. Then a voice in my head told me that I wouldn't be able to ride that far. And as I read the article I saw that it was just a ride, not a race!
I accepted the challenge and started training. I also started fundraising and managed to bring in $2000.00 in donations. I was rider #21 for the first two years. I just got so caught up in all of the excitement. I went up to L.A. on weekends trying to garner some interest in "500 riders, riding 500 miles in a week from San Francisco to Los Angeles."
470 of us rode that first year, and we rode 533 miles (I think) from Ft. Mason on the San Francisco waterfront into West Hollywood, raising $1.6 million! The route on one of those days took us through the town of Bradley, California. I'm not sure of how familiar you all are with Bradley, but the population there is about 120 by the 2000 census, and 19% of the population lives below the poverty level. As we passed the schoolyard of that town all of the students were out on the playground cheering us on. They probably hadn't seen an AIDS-related event before but they were cheering for us non-the-less.
When we finally got into West Hollywood and the Pacific Design Center, they were saying from the stage, "please welcome these wonderful athletes.” Well, nobody had ever called me an athlete in my life until then, and I looked around at the crowd and I thought to myself "What Athletes? All we are is a bunch of Dykes and Fags who have just ridden our bikes from San Francisco!" I then realized what we had accomplished and I had to concur that we MIGHT be athletes.
I did the ride again in 1995. That year I didn't get to cross the finish line. On the last night of the ride, at San Buena Ventura State Beach I had to be taken to the Veterans Hospital in Westwood where I was told to "get my affairs in order.” Boy, if I had a nickel for every time that they told me that over the years... I got my AIDS diagnosis in 1996 and couldn't participate again until 2010.
Due to illness I was confined to a wheelchair for the first part of 2007. I was in the chair one day and had to be tied into it because I kept sliding down and out of it. I had a grand mal seizure and I broke my shinbone. I don't remember the incident, but I do remember being someplace that I knew wasn't home. I was in the hospital. I didn't come out of that for about a month, I'm told.
When I finally did get out of the hospital I was 107 pounds, now as of a couple of days ago I'm 150 lbs. My partner and family didn't give up on me though, and neither did the doctors -- neither did I. I eventually got to the point where I was able to walk around the coffee table.
About that time the couple up in the house in front of us had a baby, and he was just starting to walk for the first time. I find it amusing that I was in competition with an infant to see who could walk first. I won but just barely! (lol). Then, on May 10 -- I remember cause it's my sister's birthday -- my nurse and the physical therapist gave me the go ahead to get back onto my bike again. The only stipulation was that I'd start off slow -- just 10 minutes a day. I was so nervous that first time because it had been about three years since I was last on a bike. The only place that I rode it was up one block in front of my house. I do this ride for all those "who can't walk around the coffee table."
On June 5, of last year, I went up to San Francisco to participate in Aids LifeCycle 9. They held the closing cermonies at the same Veterans Administration Hospital where I was taken in 1995. All during the day, as the riders were coming in, I got to stare at the hospital where I had received my "death sentence" 15 years earlier. It was bittersweet to say the least.
I came back from that ride a different person than the one who had gone up there. I did a lot of hard work that week and met an awful lot of incredible people. Including Christine Schaff and bike parking DIVA Toni-Lee, who I might add has been on the bike parking team since 1994. I proved to myself that I could work. It was amazing to say the least! We raised over $10,000,000.00 year for the beneficiaries of this event. I got to meet all kinds of people who have faced incredible stories -- like the guy who said 11 years ago he couldn't even walk to the bathroom! I feel for that guy, cause that's me! And then there's "chicken lady" (Steve Dawson) who, I found out has been doing the ride since it was the California AIDS Ride. And Melissa, that's all that I know of her. I don't even know what her last name is, who she was riding for, or where she is from or what. I just know that she was wearing "cat, clown make-up" and she popped up every now and then in the videos from this year wearing a "jelly-belly jersey" in some of the pictures. If anyone has information on her I'd like to touch base with her. She doesn't know how much she brightened up my day every time that I saw her. I'd like to find her because she reminds me of a girl who did the California AIDS Ride in 1994.
I plan to ride in AIDS LifeCycle 10 this June and I asked if I could get rider #2121. After much work, they were able to get it for me. I am grateful to them for this.
I believe in this cause, do you?
Vic (Potenza) McMannus Rider #2121
"Always be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else." -- Judy Garland