‘Feel the energy’

Bicyclists in the annual AIDS/LifeCycle, a trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, roll through Watsonville Monday to help raise awareness and funds to combat the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian

More than 2,200 riders raise record $16.7 million for HIV/AIDS

WATSONVILLE — More than 2,200 bicyclists, most wearing spandex and many festooned in feathers and other flamboyant finery, made their way through Santa Cruz County Monday as part of the annual AIDS/LifeCycle.

The 545-mile, seven-day journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles was created in 1994 as a fundraiser for HIV/AIDS prevention and care programs.

The riders stopped for a brief rest at Monterey Bay Academy on Monday.

Chokaé Kalekoa, who said he was “over 50,” was participating in his 21st ride. In doing so, he said he hopes help dismantle the lingering stigma that has come with an AIDS diagnosis since it made its public appearance in the 1980s.

Back then, little was known about the disease, and few public resources were available, he said. Worse, organizations such as churches turned their backs on those affected, even as people lost their jobs.

“When it hit, it hit hard,” he said. “Nobody knew what was going on. It was really quite overwhelming.”

That has changed drastically in the intervening years, with the medical community developing better treatments and closing in on a possible cure.

Still, there is much work to be done, Kalekoa said.

“I keep coming back because I know it’s doing good,” he said. “(The event) is doing everything they say it’s doing.”

Kalekoa said he was also riding in memory of numerous friends who have died during the AIDS epidemic.

“Hopefully, we won’t have too many more of them,” he said.

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Riders take a break along San Andreas Road in Watsonville. — Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian 

Launched 25 years ago, the  AIDS/LifeCycle is coproduced by Los Angeles LGBT Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. It is intended to reduce new HIV infections and improve the quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS. 

Riders are required to raise at least $3,000 for their participation, although many surpass that goal. So far this year, riders have raised a record $16.7 million, spokesman Gil Diaz said.

The money goes to fund direct services through those organizations to support HIV prevention and care, which in turn is used to help people living with the disease get treatment.

Along the route, riders have access to such amenities as massage, chiropractic services, bike mechanics and a smorgasbord of food.

Jake Torrenz of San Francisco said the ride marks his fourth time to join the trek.

“It feels great to be riding,” he said. “On the second day you start to feel the energy, with everybody thinking about the ride and feeling the pain of sore muscles. But it’s awesome. We get so much support from people on the side of the road — people thanking us for riding and giving us the thumbs up. And it’s amazing to be riding through the working lands of our country, the agriculture fields of strawberries and lettuce and artichokes with all the people out here growing everyone’s food.”

The ride debuted in 1994 as the California AIDS Ride before it was reconfigured in 2002 to what is known today as AIDS/LifeCycle, the world’s largest annual HIV/AIDS fundraiser. Participants have raised more than $263 million and completed more than 60,000 journeys from San Francisco to Los Angeles since its inception.

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For information, visit aidslifecycle.org.

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