Anyone who knows me knows that I like to ride. I cycle long-distances for a lot of reasons, one of which is that I can combine my enthusiasm for the sport with a charitable act and make the world just a little bit better. Currently, I'm training for the 11th annual AIDS LifeCycle - an event that raises money for HIV and AIDS while moving some 3,000 cyclists 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles over the course of seven days. No small feat, but AIDS is no small problem to overcome either.
For every person who rides in the AIDS LifeCycle, there's a back story. In my case, it's because I wrote an article a few years ago. My editor sent me an email with a point of contact for the Minnesota Red Ribbon Ride and I did a quick interview with the executive director, Theresa Fetsch. Her boundless enthusiasm was only the tip of the iceberg for an organization that supports eight AIDS service organizations throughout the state. My next interview was with someone who had participated in a number of these rides and was also HIV-positive. He invited me to come to a training ride to meet a number of people participating to get a better feel for what the event was all about.
At the time I had a mountain bike, but I pushed through the 37 miles of rural Minnesota and I met all manner of people that spanned my expectations including husband-wife teams and one guy riding a BMX bike with a fox tail flapping from the seat...and for the first time I knew, I met people living with HIV instead of dying from AIDS. I made a good will donation to one of the riders I interviewed and after filing my story, I thought that would be the last I heard of the event. I was clearly wrong. For the next several weeks, literally everywhere I turned, I ran into people who were participating, raising money, holding fundraisers, and somehow connected to this Red Ribbon Ride.
Clearly, the universe was speaking.
The next year, I committed to ride in the 2009 Minnesota Red Ribbon Ride. At the risk of sounding cliché, it changed my life and my attitude toward the disease. Oh, and I found that despite my previous assertions, I knew quite a few people who were affected by HIV and AIDS; and some of them were friends of mine. I rode again in 2010 before being transferred to Southern California for work. In 2011, I met some local cyclists and rode the Orange County Ride for AIDS a single day, 100-mile event.
And I registered for the 11th AIDS LifeCycle.
But this is not about me. That is the unwavering message that flashes before me when I grow weary at down-shifting into low gear to go up yet another hill. It is the thing that is branded into my brain as I drag myself out of bed early on Saturdays when, like every other working stiff, I should be sleeping in...at least until 8:00, right? And it is the thing I *must* remember when I'm really, really tired from having put in so many miles I just want to quit. It's not about me...and I need you, my faithful supporters, heroes, and friends, that this champion saddling the two-wheeled steed cannot win the battle for those unable to fight without your help.
Thank you to my latest supporters:
Duane Vajgrt and Jeff Benedick from the OCRA; Fred Kilby and his mother Mary; Dr. Sarah Jerome, the best optometrist ever and my constant supporter; Kathy Michaels (our dog's adopted aunt!); Fred Subia, my first real friend here in the OC; Martin & Lada, my Czeck amigos (how's that for mixing things up?!); Jay Casper, childhood buddy and little league teammate; Bobbie Kollar, my high school classmate who extended the welcome mat when I moved into the realm of the Orange Curtain; Jay Miller, genuinely big-hearted and long-time Minneapolis acquaintance; Lois Elfman, editor extraordinaire; and most importantly, my family my daughter, Nichole; my mom, Annie Thompson; my aunt Susana Jacobson; my grandparents, Mr. & Mrs. JS Jacobson; and my sister in-law, Angela Thomson-Brenchley.
Re-posted from my AIDS LifeCycle page at www.tofighthiv.org/goto/toddpark
Please donate today. It will mean the world of difference to people living with HIV/AIDS.
This posting was originally published April 22, 2012. I've split my writing into different blogs: Opinion, The Leukemia Chronicles, and other Freelance Writing