Op-ed: AIDS/LifeCyclers Tell it Like It Is

Four riders share their personal experiences and photos from this year's AIDS/LifeCycle.

BY Advocate.com Editors

June 15 2012 6:12 PM ET

David Hoey: Looking back on ALC 11, and reflecting on the experience as a whole, it goes much further for me than the 545 miles that we all cycled or roadied, or the $12.6 million we collectively raised in the battle against HIV/AIDS. Don't get me wrong, I have no words that can express the enormous pride I feel for these accomplishments, or how humbling and inspiring it is to be a small part of an event that brings thousands together from all walks of life, political affiliations, sexual orientations and economic positions to work together for a common good. The dedication and effort every single person involved in the event puts forth makes me want to do more. For me, I went in to the experience not knowing these things, and I don't believe anyone can truly know what I'm referring to until you participate. Let me run through the timeline of my experience.

I joined, as many others, because my friends were doing it and it sounded like a fun challenge. I also recognized the need to help those who couldn't afford their HIV/AIDS medications and, let's be honest, it selfishly looks great to put yourself out there to help others on such a grand scale. From the day I registered, my perception of this "charity event" began to change and the reality of being part of the ALC family began to set in. This community of thousands had suddenly thrown their arms around me in a welcoming embrace of support and encouragement. It seemed awkward at first.  They kept telling me, "You belong here." I cynically thought, "What are they talking about? They don't even know me." But soon, the awkwardness faded and I stopped hearing them say it and I started to believe it myself.  

I joined "Team Popular" as this was one of the highly recognized teams that raises among the most in donations annually and some of my good friends are on the team and some are even among the teams founders. There were a lot of events, classes, and training rides together as a team or through ALC in general. I had decided to do most of this by myself and didn't attend many of the Team or ALC events. In this regard, I think I missed out a bit. It may be a surprise for some to hear, but I am often uncomfortable in large gatherings of people I don't know, and will often avoid it. The desire for approval and acceptance will often throw me in to "performance mode," trying to impress people and will often have the opposite result. This comes from my insecurities of needing to be the best at everything I do or no one will notice me.

Knowing I wasn't going to raise the most money on my team and I certainly wasn't the most accomplished cyclist on the team, I kept missing the team training days after giving some lame excuse. Finally, my two friends on Team Popular, David Rae and Stephen Macias, got me to meet them one Sunday morning. They were not going to take anymore excuses. We started to ride and I was immediately mortified.

I barely knew how to properly shift gears, but these two looked like they were ready for the Tour de France. This was when it all changed for me. I expected their reaction to be one of frustration for having to "dumb it down" for me accompanied by the tension of feeling their realization of their mistake of not only inviting me along on their training ride, but allowing me on their team at all. Instead the reaction I got was much different. They both reacted with genuine encouragement, assistance, and excitement to have me along for training session, and as a team mate. I texted them later that day to thank them. They thought I was just being polite for including me. But that one session they played a major role in shifting my perception of the event, and in everything, really. I suddenly realized, it's not about winning at something that is important. It is about being part of something important that makes you a winner. My training rides got better and more frequent. My fundraising efforts increased and my involvement in team functions increased.

Over the course of the actual seven days of riding, the reality of the importance and significance set in. I met the rest of my team, who were coming in from all over the U.S. and even some from overseas. To be bound together with a common purpose and going through the struggles of pain, emotion, injury, weather, and sleep deprivation for seven days as a community will bring you close very quickly. In short, I fell in love with my team and the men and women of ALC. My existing friendships deepened and the new friendships I made have left me speechless. I didn't know that in the course of a week I was capable of caring for people I had just met so sincerely. This is a gift that the ALC gave to me that is priceless. However, my "Ah-Ha" or "Come to Jesus" moment happened on Day 6 of the ride.

Along the ride, we, as cyclists, experience thousands of supporters with signs, cow bells, etc cheering us on, thanking us and telling us we are heroes. Usually, we encounter these supporters with the group of cyclists you happen to be riding near while we approach a rest area. For some reason, on Day 6, as I approached the "Paradise Pit" rest area which is famous for serving the cyclists ice cream, I was all alone. There was not a cyclist to be seen in front of me or behind. The community had come out and were probably 50-75 people strong standing in a small area near "Paradise Pit." I heard the cow bells start ringing ahead in the distance. The cheers became louder as I got closer and the outpouring of support hit its peak, as it always did, when the riders pass by the supporters. Then I realized again that I was riding all alone. This reaction wasn't because the cyclists were approaching, it was because I was approaching. I thanked them as I rode past, got to "Paradise Pit," sat by a tree and cried as the overwhelming realization of what this event means to people and the significance of what it was we were all doing crashed down on me. I never felt so proud. I finished that amazing day with my friends at a breath taking, powerful, emotional candlelight vigil on the beach in Ventura and waking up on Day 7 ready to ride in to L.A. Well, I did it. We all did. I rode in to the VA center to the love and support I had now expected to see because of my newly discovered faith in the good of people. I finished the ride to the welcoming arms of my best friend of 20 years and other dear friends waiting for me. Their faces showed pride for my accomplishment and love for me. They have always felt that way but, for the first time in a long while, I recognized it and celebrated.  

As long as I have strength to peddle a bike, I will be part of this event. Thank you ALC.  Thank you members (family) of Team Popular. Thank you Roadies. Thank you supporters.  And thank you, my heroes, who live everyday effected by or infected with HIV/AIDS as, to me, your stories, strength and courage inspire me and has helped me see things differently.   It's not about winning at something that is important. It is about being part of something important that makes you a winner.     

Why ride? Well, whatever the reason, it all comes down to a common goal. We are all riding to save lives. In many ways, and on many levels, the gifts and self realization/improvement that I take away from this, my first ALC experience, has saved my life in more ways than one. I can't wait to celebrate 20 years of this amazing event.

Tags: Health

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