I rode for all the voices that were silenced way too early.
I rode for everyone currently impacted by HIV/AIDS.
I rode in the HOPE that one day there will be a cure.
I rode in the HOPE that one day we won’t have to ride.
- First I want to say thank-you to my husband Mark for his never-ending support while I trained for this adventure, his cheering along the way and being there from start to finish. I love you.
- Thank you to those who made donations that enabled me to beat my fundraising goal.
- Thank you to everyone who cheered for me before and during the ride.
- Not enough thank-you’s in the world for the 300+ volunteers who fed us, kept us safe on the roads, took care of our injuries, and cheered for us along the route. We could not have done it without you.
- And lastly, to all the riders: men, women, young and old. I thank you for the opportunity to be part of something so great. Your drive, determination, and spirit of love was such an inspiration.
This past year was a tough one: losing my mother to cancer and being diagnosed with severe neuropathy in both legs. Both of these events hit me hard, but as many of you know, I face life head-on, and I do not give in easily. These 2 events, if anything, made me stronger.
We were at church one Sunday in June and my soon to be team captain had spoken about the ride and was encouraging people to join. When I heard him, I immediately knew I was going to do it. I whispered to Mark that I want to talk to him after service. God had spoken to me that day, who was I to say no. That night I registered and started my commitment.
Training in the Florida summer heat and flying back and forth to New Jersey during the summer did not bode well for training, but I rode whenever I could find the time. When Irma hit and severely damaged a lot of the Keys, we all feared the worst, but thankfully the ride was postponed, not canceled. When they announced the new January date, it was back to training.
When the ride was a week away, the mind started with ‘you are not ready’, ‘your legs won’t let you’ etc., all the negative thoughts were creeping in. I had never ridden more than 40 miles in one ride, and the thought of 165 was pretty damn scary. When you look at the route on a map it is very daunting. Mark kept encouraging me, and then I had to remind myself why I was riding.
Riding 165 miles, and a good portion of it by myself, I was presented with a forced time of reflection. Mark and I had been very active in fundraising years ago, but we, along with a lot of the nation, have become complacent about the epidemic. People were living and not dying, medications were working. It has become a chronic disease and not the killer it used to be. It was no longer on the news, in magazines or newspapers. Florida is leading the country in new cases of HIV, and it kinda hit home again. Many of us with a voice have silenced ourselves with complacency, I know I did. The names on the AIDS Memorial in Key West symbolize the losses over the years, many of us can replace those names with many of our friends, lovers, or family members.
I miss my friends who I have lost, I wish I could have seen what they may have become. I remembered every one of them at some point on this ride. Reflecting on the good times we had, and knowing each of them was cheering me on, patting me on the back, kicking me in my ass, or giving me a wisecrack (Blanche).
I reflected on the loss of my mother this past September. She was my number one cheerleader. I missed being able to talk to her after the ride, but I know she was with me the entire time. There were times I struggled when the winds kicked in, and I said mom, I need a boost. A few minutes would go by and all of a sudden I realized I felt good again. She was definitely watching over me like any mother would. I carried her picture in my wallet along with my grandmother’s.
I met some amazing people during this ride, all participating or volunteering for different reasons, but with the same common goal, we need to stop the spread, we need to find a cure, we need to care for the people who are suffering.
There were a few ladies from the villages who were in their 70’s and they completed the ride. I met some neighbors who were riding on a different team. I met many long-time survivors who were riding for themselves, their friends and the people of Florida. I met a guy from Rhode Island who comes down every year, 2 women from Maine. I met a woman who has done all 14 rides. The list of amazing people I met is long. Each one inspires me in a different way. I think in the end, we all inspired each other, gave the encouragement we needed to go on when we wanted to stop. When I was really struggling, it always seemed like someone would come up from behind to give me a hello or a ‘keep digging’.
It was a beautiful ride, especially over the seven-mile bridge surrounded by water. The weather was a little cool but better than 95 degrees. Marathon, where we ended the first day, was still in pretty bad shape from Irma. We saw boats on the side of the road on top of each other, we saw campers on the side of the road just destroyed. Key West seems to have recovered quickly and looked pretty good, at least the part that we saw. I had a near-miss with a large pelican who I guess did not want me to disturb his rest. He flapped his wings at me as I rode up and then flew off. It was pretty funny.
We had a police escort into town and we rode up and down the streets and were cheered by the locals and tourists. There was a cruise ship in town and all the tourists were snapping pictures and taking videos. You could hear the funny responses from people when they heard we rode from Miami, from Holy Shit to congrats. We didn’t do this for the pat on the back or the cheers, but I have to say it felt good to feel the love and support. At one point during the ride into town we had passed a house that had chickens and they started a fight and one of the chickens flew up over the fence right in front of my teammate. It was pretty comical. They must have kept fighting after we passed because we could hear other riders laughing behind us.
When we got to the AIDS memorial and the pier we were met by all the volunteers, friends and family. Cheering us on as we made the final stretch to the stage for the closing ceremony. After all, the riders were in and the volunteers were introduced, everyone held hands and the Riderless bike made its way to the stage. That bike held the spirits of everyone who lost their battle. And of course, the traditional bike over the head shot at the end.
In the end we had raised $830, 245.00. Under the goal, but the devastation to Florida from Irma had made an impact on donations. But we were all still proud since 100% of the money we raised goes to the charities.
I designated my funds to the following charities:
Metro Wellness & Community Centers (St Pete and Tampa) is a multi-faceted agency in Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas Counties serving the HIV+ community via Medical Case Management, Eligibility, Minority AIDS Initiative, Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Prevention/Testing/Outreach services.
Miracle of Love, Inc.(in Orlando) services is designed to promote HIV/AIDS prevention and care services for people living with HIV/AIDS in order for them achieve positive medical outcomes by keeping them in care and treatment programs. With over 25 years of outstanding service, Miracle of Love, Inc. continues to serve as a resource for education, support, medical and non-medical case management, housing case management, community advocacy, confidential HIV/ STI screening, and linkage to care.
And our volunteers:
The men and women who fed us our meals and provided snacks at the pit stops were amazing, always smiling and thanking us for riding, but thank you for ensuring we got the food we needed to endure.
The motorcycle guys who got us safely out of Miami in rush hour, and continued to greet and direct us at some very busy intersections along the route. It always felt good to see them zip past you to the next stop on their list or doubling back to make sure we were all ok.
The medical team who took care of all the aches and pains of the riders. We were not a young bunch of riders, I would guess the average age was around 55. Thankfully the only help I needed from them was two Advil to help with arthritis in my left hand. I was having trouble getting unclipped from my shoes and did the, uh oh, I’m tipping over….lol.
The bike repair team who helped with all sorts of repairs for the bikes, from flats to brakes. They tried to fix my broken clips but were not successful so the last 65 miles I rode with only one shoe clipped. I was fortunate to have no flat tires and my tire pressure stayed steady. Sadly you would see so many riders with flats along the way, the debris on the road was still pretty bad even months after Irma.
The Cheerleaders who would suddenly appear at intersections along the way waving flags and cheering us on. We had 2 women dressed as superheroes. Mark even stopped at party city and bought pom poms and was driving the route waving them out the window and cheering us on. Locals must have thought ‘who is this strange man’.
The massage therapists who gave their time and hands to massage our aching muscles at the end of each day. Again, I was fortunate, that after riding 165 miles I had no aches or pains, actually felt pretty good except for some stiffness, and my butt hurt….lol
Sunday morning when I woke up and realized I could still walk (lol) I registered for the SmartRide 15, November 16th and 17th. This will be the 15th Anniversary of the Smart Ride and will most likely be more amazing than this year, at least for me.
Who wants to join me?