Los Angeles Vanguard Weekly Blog

Getting to (Day) Zero

We're counting down to AIDS/LifeCycle 2018!

It's the 25th year of riding to end AIDS through AIDS/LifeCycle and its predecessor, the California AIDS Ride. For the next 25 days, ending on Orientation Day for thousands of volunteer Cyclists and Roadies and Day Zero of AIDS/LifeCycle 2018, we'll be spotlighting participants by asking them to tell us "Why I Ride."

For more information on this year's Finish Line in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, June 9, click here.

To make a donation and learn more about AIDS/LifeCycle, click here.

Day Zero

Day Zero: You!

Coney is helping us celebrate Day Zero! Tomorrow, thousands of Cyclists and Roadies begin their journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles, with hundreds of supporters cheering them on along the way all week. To all of them and all of you who make their journey and this life-saving work possible: thank you! We'll see you at the finish line in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, June 9 - visit aidslifecycle.org/finishline for info. Follow the ride all week @aidslifecycle, and, as Coney would say, "Ride safe. Be safe."

Day 1

Day 1: Cyclist Frankie Grande
Los Angeles

"I am unbelievably proud to be participating in this incredible event. I ride for friends whom I have lost to AIDS and the millions of people I will never meet who are suffering due to HIV and AIDS. I ride to increase awareness and help those in need. I ride to change the stigma surrounding the disease. I ride for equality. I ride for freedom. I ride for joy. See you at the finish line in downtown Los Angeles!"

Day 3

Day 3: Cyclist Trace Symonds
Dallas, Texas

"In 2015, I was scheduled to participate in AIDS/LifeCycle with my cousin. Her brother passed from complications related to AIDS in 2006 and we were planning to celebrate his 50th birthday. However, two months before the ride, my partner/husband lost vision in one eye. After being sent to the emergency room by the eye doctor, they discovered cancer. I had to give up doing the ride in 2015 to stay home and take care of him. We didn't know how long he would have. Unfortunately, he lost his battle on October 16, 2017. A week or so later, I found a camcorder that had a video on it. It was him leaving me a message wishing that I would get healthy and take care of myself. He wanted me back on my bike because I had given it up to take care of him. After watching this video and once the tears dried up, I messaged my cousin and signed up for AIDS/LifeCycle 2018."

Day 4

Day 4: Cyclist Ray Otani
San Jose, California

"I participate in AIDS/LifeCycle because I am healthy enough to ride and to honor three friends who have passed from AIDS-related complications as well as the many others currently living with HIV and AIDS."

Day 5

Day 5: Cyclist Debi Schechtman
San Jose, California

"In 1989 I lost my younger brother Neal to AIDS. Since then, I’ve been passionate about the cause. In 2011, I made the life-changing decision to register for AIDS/LifeCycle. I am now embarking on my sixth ride and closing in on raising more than $50,000 since I began. So many of the younger riders I have met were not yet born during the worst years of the epidemic. Whether straight or gay, we who have been around have the opportunity to keep that history alive and share it with a new generation. We have the hope that one day we will have a cure, have zero new infections, and make sure that those we lost are never forgotten. That’s why I ride and no matter my challenges, I will keep riding.”

Day 6

Day 6: Cyclist Robert Morgan
Little Rock, Arkansas

"My father was a participant in the 2013 and 2014 AIDS/LifeCycle and asked me to come spend time with him and enjoy the opening and closing ceremonies. He had been HIV-positive for 18 years. Sadly, he was hit while cycling in late 2014 and died. It was the most devastating moment of my life. He was my father, but also my best friend. I set out to figure out why he loved cycling so much so I signed up for AIDS/LifeCycle. I completed the ride in 2015 and loved what it meant. A broken leg prevented me from riding in 2016 so to make up that, I brought a new rider with me in 2017. This year I am returning with three additional new riders. It is time to share this ride with more of Arkansas and other places where HIV and AIDS are swept under the rug."

Day 7

Day 7: Cyclist Tyler Larkey
Phoenix, Arizona

"As a rookie rider last year, somewhere between San Francisco and Los Angeles I found myself. I learned about who I was and, more importantly, the kind of man I want to become. AIDS/LifeCycle is an indescribable experience of love, acceptance, reflection, and personal growth. I was forced to realize that I was one of those people that created this ‘us’ and ‘them’ separation between people who were positive and people who were not. I am riding in 2018 to eliminate stigma and make amends with myself and the community for promoting a world of us and them. I’m proud to be a part of the HIV community regardless of my status.”

Day 8

Day 8: Cyclist Uri Katz
West Hollywood, California

"Last year, I decided to make some major changes in life and to do something out of my element, do something for others – something meaningful. AIDS/LifeCycle changed my life. I'm more active than ever. I'm happy. I help people. I am making a change. I moved from NYC to LA because of the ride, and I completely felt in love with California. I think it’s important for people to understand that everyone can participate, it doesn't matter if you're fit or not, you can do it. I hadn't done cardio in 10 years before getting my bike last year for my first AIDS/LifeCycle, and I haven't looked back since."

Day 9

Day 9: Cyclist Miguel Medel
Monterey Hills, California

"I ride because I still can. I ride because as a person of color I need to create awareness that AIDS and HIV infection rates continues to grow within my community. I ride because as Controller of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, I know that our donations benefit our community and are greatly appreciated by those who have received and are receiving services at the Center. I ride because it matters."

Day 10

Day 10: Cyclist Samuel Chavez
Riverside, California

"I am participating in this event for the first time to help raise awareness and hope for other gay men out there that have struggled and battled and felt alone or felt that life was too much due to a diagnosis. I want my story to touch and help others know they are not alone; HIV or AIDS is just a diagnosis but doesn’t define who a person is."

Day 11

Day 11: Cyclist Khoa Bui
West Hollywood, California

"When I started training for my first AIDS/LifeCycle ride with Team Orange County back in 2003, it was to participate in something challenging while supporting a good cause. Little did I know about the camaraderie and connection that I’d feel on that ride. I have been coming back ever since. Since I became an employee of the Los Angeles LGBT Center in Health Services, I have even more insight into why it is important to support this event."

Day 12

Day 12: Cyclist Evan Kavanagh
San Francisco

"When I founded an AIDS Project in Illinois at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, I did it with a constricted and angry heart. AIDS/LifeCycle has helped me open my heart. Last year, I had the names of my dearest lost friends tattooed onto my leg, along with other images from the ride and the years I have ridden. Participating in the ride has allowed me to own my whole life experience with HIV/AIDS. I am so grateful for the opportunity to make a difference and to participate in such a lovely community of people. We are making a difference. Our donors are making a difference. What a privilege."

Day 13

Day 13: Cyclist Mandy Messinger
Los Angeles

"Every weekend as a child, my parents took our family to the same restaurant for Sunday brunch. The place was a haven for the LGBTQ community in Philadelphia, and many of the servers became close family friends. Many of them were also HIV positive. One year, my parents hired Sayeed, one of the servers, to do our gardening. Besides planting the most beautiful flowers around our home, he also planted me my very own red rose bush. The next year, Sayeed died. I was heartbroken, and my parents explained that Sayeed had died of complications related to AIDS. Every year that followed, as my rose bush grew and wound its way up the trestle outside my bedroom window, I thought of him. I ride now for the memory of Sayeed, for the people I knew from the restaurant as a child who passed, and for my friends now who are positive and fight so hard to stay healthy."

Day 14

Day 14: Cyclist Juan Carlos Ochoa
Laguna Beach, California

"I am riding because I want to and because I can. I want to continue being my daughter's hero and I want her to know she can do anything. I want to leave this world better than how I found it. I rode many years ago on the California AIDS Ride before it became AIDS/LifeCycle and I did it for a few years consecutively. Twenty years later, I want to challenge myself and create public awareness that HIV is not over and as the world evolves, so does the disease. I ride because it does not matter if I am gay or straight; we all can make a difference."

Day 16

Day 15: Roadie Madlyne Frisby
Burlington, New Jersey

"My son was diagnosed with HIV. I always had a fear of him getting hurt by homophobic and mean people. For us, this journey with HIV is far more than I could have imagined, but the strength my son shows lets me know there is a cure in sight."

Madlyne's son Vaughn will also be on AIDS/LifeCycle as a Cyclist.

Day 16

Day 16: Cyclist Klaus Ohrem
Cologne, Germany

"I am 56 and have lived with HIV for 33 years. Seeing my partner die while I held his hand is an experience I’ll never forget. I know today is better thanks to new medication, but there is still a lot to do. I realize that here in Germany we have a completely different healthcare system. There is no need for an event like AIDS/LifeCycle to raise money for the important work you do. I am proud to be a rider again this year and support you with my donations. And during the ride you start to remember all the friends and loved people you know who passed away."

Day 17

Day 17: Cyclist Holly McKinzie
San Francisco

"Because the younger generation does not see their friends die around them daily and did not experience life before PrEP and other preventative medications, the urgency around the HIV-AIDS is dwindling. As someone who is 24 and part of that generation, I want to help in the push for more education. I want to be part of a generation that believes this fight is not over and be part of a group that can help inspire others."

Day 18

Day 18: Cyclist Ken Pepper
Van Nuys, California

"This is my 21st year riding to end AIDS. My youngest brother died of HIV complications almost 10 years ago. He gave me the challenge of riding to help end AIDS. That was a good enough reason for me to try to help him and millions of other people."

Day 19

Day 19: Cyclist Eileen Haydu
Olympia, Washington

"AIDS became personal for me in 1988 when my childhood friend, Mindy Mitchell, called to tell me that her two younger brothers both had AIDS. Gregg and Dean Mitchell died exactly one month apart in 1989. Twenty-nine years later, HIV/AIDS entered my life again in a much different manner. My daughter-in-law, Jen Balkus, is a researcher at the University of Washington, and is working to develop long-acting HIV prevention methods for women. So I said yes to riding in memory of Gregg and Dean and yes to fighting this terrible disease that has taken so many loved ones from so many of us. Their father is now 96 and is very moved to have me involved in this event and to be riding in honor of his sons."

Photo: Mindly Mitchell (left) and Eileen Haydu (right)

Day 20

Day 20: Cyclist Tony Asaro
San Francisco

"In 1993, on my 16th birthday, my cousin Mark died of complications related to AIDS. I am doing AIDS/LifeCycle to honor him on the 25th anniversary of his death. Mark was so many things I aspired to be and would eventually become: a professional singer and an accomplished musical theater professional. And like me, Mark was gay. Unlike me, he never came out to our family. His silence about his sexuality was the reason I came out so soon after—just a year and a half after his death. I was determined to live my life authentically in a way he felt he could not. I do this ride for him."

Day 21

Day 21: Cyclist Marilyn Anthony
Wallingford, Connecticut

"In 2011 at the age of 50, I had been in an emotionally abusive and mentally void relationship for 12 years. My daughter, looking for her next physical challenge, signed us up for AIDS/LifeCycle as a surprise birthday gift. I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was around 12 to 14 years old, but with a couple glasses of wine on board and a rude comment from the then boyfriend, I accepted. This ride helped me 'get to the other side of me.' I found my worth and I was surrounded by humanity at its best. My life after the first AIDS/LifeCycle has been golden. I can’t write a check for $10,000, but I can do my damnedest to raise it."

Day 22

Day 22: Cyclist Joseph Biddix
Sneads Ferry, North Carolina

"I'm a nurse in the U.S. Navy and didn't have any background working with HIV/AIDS when I first joined AIDS/LifeCycle in 2016. Most of my work was in post-operative care on a surgical floor in a naval hospital. However, as my involvement with AIDS/LifeCycle has continued, my involvement in HIV/AIDS education has increased so much. Sometimes I get the questions, ‘But why are you concerned about HIV in the military? Don't you guys screen for it?’ Short answer: yes, we do screen for it. Based off of 2017 data, a Sailor or Marine was diagnosed as HIV-positive every 4.3 days last year. If you factor in the Army and Air Force, there is a positive diagnosis every 1.8 days. HIV affects the military just as much as the civilian sector, and we have to remain vigilant to keep our members operationally ready."

Day 23

Day 23: Cyclist Denice Williams 
San Diego

"I ride to raise awareness of HIV and to destroy the myths that keep people of color and women from getting tested. Each year, as the epidemic continues to diminish overall, we still find that in communities of color the rates of HIV infection continues to grow, especially among African-American women. This is why I ride."

Day 24

Day 24: Cyclist Jose Huizar
Maywood, California

"In 2007 I met the love of my life, Edgar Lanuza. When he told me he was HIV positive, I didn’t care as I had the right education to be with someone with a different HIV status than mine. Sadly, he was diagnosed with Lymphatic Cancer two years later. Having the person you love die in your arms was a life-changing experience. Even though HIV was not the reason for his death, HIV marked our relationship in a big way. Let’s help to prevent future HIV infections, show support to those who live with the condition, and one day end AIDS."

Day 25

Day 25: Cyclist Lexi Hawley
Los Angeles

“I grew up in San Francisco during the AIDS epidemic. I was young, but I remember the day the AIDS Memorial Quilt came to my school. So many beautiful souls were dying and no one knew how to stop it. I ride because the fight against HIV and AIDS has come a really long way, but there’s still so much work to be done."

To make a donation and learn more about AIDS/LifeCycle, click here.

Published May 06, 2018

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