Op-ed: What Mortality Means to Me Now

The biggest lesson for AIDS/LifeCycle rider Chris Richey on living for today came with the results of an HIV test.

BY Chris Richey

May 16 2012 4:00 AM ET

Chris Richey

It was almost two years ago at a barbecue when I first heard of AIDS/LifeCycle. A friend of mine had just returned from the ride that very day. Curious, I asked Ryan why he did it. He told me the ride was one of the most important and life-changing experiences he had ever been part of. The ride was not just a vehicle to raise money for defeating the disease; it was a commitment to be part of something larger than oneself. At the time, I thought it sounded like a long, exhausting ride on a bike. But his passion was inspiring. And a year and a half later, AIDS/LifeCycle is deeply personal to me.

Mortality can throw you a swift punch in the stomach and deliver a real dose of humility and perspective. In the course of a year, I was delivered a few big punches.

After almost losing one of the most important people in my life — my mom — to cancer and the sudden and untimely loss of two close friends, I quickly learned all too well of our fragility. The biggest lesson, however, came in facing my own HIV diagnosis.

This has definitely been a year about perspective. Before my diagnosis and the events of the past year, I rarely thought about death. It was not until death was staring me in the face that I woke up and realized: “Hey, you know what? You only get one shot at this.”

It is with this mentality that I now assess life’s “bigger picture” and grow. It has taken time for me to come full circle with my diagnosis. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure I'm there yet. Just coming to grips with the health side of it was difficult enough — not to mention the social stigma, and everything a “positive” diagnosis means in our society. Through it all, I can honestly say, however, I am not the same person I was a year and a half ago at that barbecue. And I’m proud of that.

Today I better appreciate that AIDS/LifeCycle, a seven-day bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, raises money and awareness in the fight against HIV/AIDS and that, every year, this landmark ride through beautiful California delivers a life-changing experience. Thousands of participants from all backgrounds and fitness levels unite by a common desire to do something heroic.

As the number of people living with HIV increases, so does the need for the services provided by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, the two fantastic agencies that produce this event. These agencies provide critical services and education needed by our community. We ride to raise awareness and knowledge about HIV/AIDS among participants, their donors, and the general public. We ride because — in the current economy — our agencies need these funds more than ever. Ultimately, we ride so that someday, we won’t have to.

So I begin the next step in this journey today. Now I can say to you that nothing is more important than realizing the true beauty of life and living every day like it is your last. Nothing is more important than learning of the inherent value of your family and friends, and most of all, learning your inherent value.

I could not have gotten through the last year without the support of my friends and family. It was with their love, thoughts, prayers, and the occasional late-night therapy session that helped me endure one of the most difficult times in my life.

In June of this year, I embark on my next challenge – to give back to those who have given me so much, and are working to find a cure. With hundreds of riders participating on the road, tens of thousands will be with us in spirit, having contributed through fundraising support.

My goal for this first ride is $10,000, and I am already halfway there. I am honored by each of the tax-deductible gifts made toward my ride. While I may not have the following that more veteran riders have, those who support me know my ride will be one of shared purpose and true faith that we as individuals are capable of truly awesome tasks when working together.

The fact remains that every 9 1/2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is infected with HIV. Approximately 21% of people with HIV are not diagnosed. We have to take action to stop this virus once and for all. I will not let this virus defeat me. That is why I am looking forward to going on this journey. Life’s possibilities are truly endless, and we are capable of defying all odds.

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