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How Memories Became Fuel for My Fifth AIDS/LifeCycle Ride

How Decades-Old Memories Became Fuel for My Fifth AIDS/LifeCycle Ride

Biking through California to raise money for the AIDS fight is no easy endeavor. Here's why some people, including this banking executive, do it. 

This year marks my fifth time riding in AIDS/LifeCycle, the annual seven-day, 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money and awareness in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Much has changed since I embarked on the first ALC ride in 2002 -- cultural changes for the LGBT community, the medical advances for those living with HIV or AIDS, and changes for me personally.

This year, I'm excited to serve as co-captain for Team Bank of America Merrill Lynch, one of the ride's largest corporate teams. This year, we have officially surpassed the $1 million fundraising goal originally set when our team formed in 2014. There is an amazing amount of community, passion, and inspiration among our 40-person team of riders and roadies from across the country that reflects everything that is powerful and special about the ride.

As we recruited colleagues for this year's ride, we asked about their motivation. Their reasons varied. Some spoke about the allure of physical challenge. Others simply want to give back to the community. And then a Las Vegas teammate shared a deeply personal, raw, and emotional response that struck me so hard I lost it.

This is what he said:

"I didn't grow up with Will & Grace, you see. I came to age with Philadelphia. Gay and HIV/AIDS were synonymous for a very long time. AIDS took my brother in the '80s. And by 'took,' I don't mean he died of AIDS. No, he took his life before it had the chance to take his. All of his friends in New York City were dying around him, and he thought of himself as one of the damned. It was too much to bear, so one day he said, 'Enough! I live in a world where it's insidious for me to love.' His goodbye note said it was the only solution."

After hearing his testimonial, I went home that night and watched a documentary about AIDS in the '80s. I recalled my own worst fears living through that time period and coming out as a gay man. I remember being in high school, struggling with my identity and tuning in to the evening news on a regular basis to see reports about gay men dying from a terrible disease that nobody knew anything about and that the government wasn't trying to find a cure for.

The LGBT community was fearless in speaking out, through the likes of ACT UP, and fighting for our government to take action, find a cure, and provide health care. However, like so many others probably were, I was secretly crumbling on the inside. Is this my destiny? Will I get AIDS? Am I going to die because I'm gay?

The fight against AIDS has come so far, but there remains so much more to do. This is why I ride.

I ride because I don't want anyone to ask themselves the questions that haunted my teenage self. I ride because no one should ever know the pain of losing a brother, father, mother, or sister to AIDS. I ride because the generations before and after us deserve to grow old and live a long life.

My Bank of America Merrill Lynch teammates will collectively ride the 545 miles through California to progress toward finding a cure for HIV and AIDS and create a more compassionate society. But I also wanted to close by sharing some of their individual, powerful reasons that fuel them:

I ride because I was there when an AIDS diagnosis was an immediate death sentence.

I ride because AIDS still kills.

I ride because I saw how ugly the stigma was surrounding HIV and AIDS.

I ride because I witnessed a generation before me overtaken by suicide, death, hopelessness, and despair.

I ride because I haven't lost my hope. We will, one day, eradicate AIDS.

I ride because people close to me are living with HIV and AIDS.

I ride because history repeats itself and I refuse to sit back while people with HIV and AIDS have to fight for health care they deserve.

I ride for those who are unable to ride.

I ride so, someday, we won't have to.

I ride for a future free of HIV and AIDS.

I ride because intention without action is useless.

I ride lest we forget.

I ride because I care.

And because we ride, we are saving lives and doing what we will do to end AIDS.

MICHAEL FERRARA is a global banking and markets executive with Bank of America, based in Los Angeles.

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