By Jason Sikkila
Originally published on Advocate.com May 11 2012 5:29 PM ET
When some riders hear that I am a Positive Pedaler, a look of bewilderment overcomes them.
“But you’re not positive,” they assume, “so what does it mean to be a Poz Ped?”
Or another common response if they do comprehend what I’ve told them: “Wow. I didn’t know. I’m sorry. I would have never guessed. You don’t look like you have AIDS.”
Those two natural and all-too-common responses are why I ride — because I can.
My bike saved my life. I wouldn’t realize this for quit some time. At the opening ceremonies of AIDS/LifeCycle 9 on June 5, 2010, the CEO of the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center belted words that I heard but didn’t fully buy into until much later.
“AIDS/LifeCycle is a life-changing event,” screamed Lorri Jean. “You will not complete this ride and leave here the same person you are today.”
Come on, lady, how can a simple bike ride change your life? I have done many HIV/AIDS rides all across the country from coast to coast, I thought dismissively. This will be a neat experience, sure, but life changing?
By the end of day 7, I still hadn’t fully understood the impact the ride would leave on me or just how much it would continue to change my life. But even now I see my life changing as a result.
AIDS/LifeCycle shaped me as a person. It assisted in casting a mold for living my life. There are many others with unfathomably tragic consequences and conclusions. With my own IV drug addiction, cancer, homelessness, and a reactive HIV test in 2007, my life today in theory should look much different. My life should maybe already have a big period on it, with a bunch of dirt piled on top of me and a rock beside my head.
I owe thanks to William Graff, a first-time LifeCycle rider this year, for using his extremely persuasive ways to convince me to blow all my student loan money and buy a new bicycle. His idea came in the middle of my own heavy meth addiction, and I had never owned or touched a bike since the day I turned 16 and got a car. I encourage everyone to do the same without hesitation or regret. That bike has carried me through every “poor me” event in my adult life. It proved that yes, I can — insert whatever I decided I can do after my mind initially said don't even try.
Please join me, Jason Sikkila — son, brother, uncle, friend, drug addict, cancer survivor, HIV survivor, lover of my life — as I try to contain myself from overly gushing about “Why I Ride.” My experience is unique, of course, but it is universal too. Every tale of the LifeCycle experience and way of life resonates with every other person who has experienced the power, joy, growth, community, and utopia that is AIDS/LifeCycle.
Why do I ride? I ride because I am still able to. I ride for those who came before and forged an unimaginable path and for those who no longer can. I ride because I still have to.