More than 2,200 cyclists are pedaling their way toward Los Angeles this week for AIDS/LifeCycle, a 545-mile fundraising ride that began in San Francisco on June 2 and ends at Fairfax High School on June 8.
Riders raised a record $16.7 million this year for services provided by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Participation is personal for most of the cyclists, many of whom have lost friends and loved ones to HIV/AIDS.
“This is my 21st ride, and to be frank, it’s [because of] dead friends,” Beverly Hills resident Chokaé Kalekoa said. “When I started riding, I had already lost a few people. I thought, I want to do something to help. I knew a friend who did it and I decided to ride it. I’ve done it ever since. It’s absolutely an amazing event.”
Kalekoa said while the daily bike rides averaging approximately 60 to 100-plus miles can be arduous, participation is rewarding. A small army of support staff from the LGBT center follows the cyclists and provides services ranging from bike repairs to massages and medical care. Kalekoa leads yoga sessions when the cyclists camp overnight along the way. He called it his way of giving back, helping fellow riders prepare for the next day’s journey.
“It’s an exhausting thing to a degree, but this is one of the most beautifully supported rides,” he said. “It’s always wonderful to join with fellow cyclists and make a difference.”
First time rider Wolé Parks, a West Hollywood resident, also said he participated in AIDS/Lifecycle to help others.
“I’ve had friends who have done it before and for me, it’s an important cause,” Parks said. “I had volunteered at a hospice that treated people with AIDS, and I saw what can happen with the disease.”
Parks cited the support crew, known as “roadies,” as one of the best parts of the ride. Seeing people from around the state come out to greet riders on the side of the road as they pass by has also been emotionally uplifting, he said.
“You see many people out there encouraging you and helping you along the way,” Parks said. “They’re just everyday people who are taking the time to show support for what we are doing.”
The ride began in 1993 as the California AIDS Ride, and the name was changed to AIDS/Lifecycle in 2002 after the organizers split with a private company that originally produced the event. Participants have raised more than $200 million since the ride began, and the funds have made a difference in many people’s lives.
“The dedication of our riders and roadies, and their generous donors, makes it possible for us to provide vital medical care and services to people living with HIV and to provide prevention tools, including PrEP, to those most at risk of becoming infected,” Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean said. “As the center celebrates our 50th anniversary, we salute everyone who is part of the amazing AIDS/LifeCycle community working tirelessly to end AIDS.”
“The awareness and funds raised by the AIDS/LifeCycle community are critical components of ending the HIV epidemic, once and for all, for everyone,” San Francisco AIDS Foundation CEO Joe Hollendoner added. “Because of the tenacity and enduring commitment of AIDS/LifeCycle participants, San Francisco AIDS Foundation is able to provide 25,000 clients with services that prevent new transmissions and promote the health of those living with HIV, all free of charge.”
Organizers said the HIV/AIDS epidemic is far from over. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 38,739 people were diagnosed with HIV in the United States in 2017, the latest year for which statistics are available.
Cyclists encourage supporters to come to the finish line festival on June 8 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Fairfax High School, 7850 Melrose Ave. The festival coincides with numerous Pride weekend events occurring in nearby West Hollywood.
Kalekoa said he is looking forward to crossing the finish line for the 21st time and said it has become a tradition to join friends and celebrate after he returns.
“It’s always wonderful to come home,” Kalekoa said, adding there is another tradition he is looking forward to after finishing. “I’m sure there will be a martini waiting for me.”
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