BY Benjamin Ryan
November 18 2010 4:00 AM ET
"It's one thing to be in my position and to write the best marketing materials and to try to pitch the best stories to the media," Barron says, "but it's another thing to show people living with this disease and living with dignity and creating the positive role models that we need."
James Williams Jr., a 51-year-old attorney who found cycling was a much more practical fitness pursuit than horseback riding when he moved from Atlanta to New York City, says he sees it as his duty to wear the red jersey and put a healthy face on HIV. A couple of years ago he had his PosPeds shirt trimmed down so that he could wear it in the New York City triathlon. While running through the northern end of Central Park in the final leg, he says, "I heard a couple say, 'Oh, look, there's somebody that's got HIV.' And that was the neatest feeling in the world. I thought to myself, That's exactly why I wanted to do this as a PosPedaler. Our purpose is to say, 'You know we have this virus and we have obstacles. Yes, we have to take medicines, and there's some times when we can't do everything. But we can do a lot.'_"
Perhaps more important is the way the riders inspire one another, not just to maintain physical fitness but to move outside the dark cloud of stigma. David Duncan, a 57-year-old former campus planner for the University of California, Berkeley, who lives on disability in San Francisco, says he and his riding buddies have coined the phrase circling the table for the way that other LifeCycle riders hover at a nervous distance when they see the PosPeds information table, not sure if they're ready to come out about their own serostatus.
Duncan himself was once one of them. "It's a whole process," he says of disclosing he was HIV-positive by his at-first cautious association with the group. "Being positive in front of everybody else -- it was a huge thing to for me to do."
All anxieties aside, there probably isn't a more receptive audience to such a personal announcement than a group of fellow cyclists pedaling (and peddling) for AIDS service organizations. For anyone who participates in the San Francisco to L.A. ride, the highlight is the end of the third day -- designated PosPeds Night -- when the group's members share their stories at the dinner meeting and then invite anyone who is HIV-positive to stand and be recognized. "It's the most empowering thing that you could do," Williams says. "Before I left [on the ride], I had told only one person that I had the disease."