This summer I’ve decided to embark on a life-changing adventure. In July I’ll be riding my bicycle 600 kilometers from Toronto to Montreal and raising money to support the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation.
Now in its 17th year, the annual Friends for Life Bike Rally isn’t new information to those in the HIV loop of Toronto, but it is new to me. Since I was diagnosed HIV-positive in 2013 this is the first I’ve been involved in any fundraiser of this sort. With my adventure having only just begun, it has already been an emotional and engaging experience, and I’m eagerly anticipating the continued pain and gratification to come.
The 600-kilometer bike rally takes six days. SIX DAYS! And involves biking upwards of 100 kilometers per day. Four of the five travel nights are spent camping (one night is spent in the Queens University dorms in Kingston). We’ll be leaving on July 26th from Allan Gardens in Toronto, and arriving into Montreal on July 31st. Over 300 riders are expected to take part this year, supported by an amazingly dedicated team of crew that takes care of all elements of bike rally support and safety.
As you might imagine, some training is required to make it through this ordeal.
This January I started getting back into working out and eating healthily after several… years… off. (I blame university). I’m down a few pounds and feeling more fit, and that’s probably played into my empowerment to take on this new challenge. I’m really excited about it.
Since I was diagnosed I’ve felt a hyperawareness of my own impermanence. It’s like I can feel myself aging… faster than my friends. Faster than others around me my age. I know I’ve got a decent life expectancy, but it’s well-documented that those of us living with HIV experience disproportionate aging and other health burdens. Anyway, this awareness of my own aging has also catalyzed my interest in taking care of myself physically. So, I’m excited to be doing something good for my body.
I’ve still got a long way to go before I’m ready to ride day after day of 100+ kilometers, but I’ll get there. The bike rally has organized training rides to help the riders build up their strength and endurance. There are a few qualifying training rides, which I just looked up to include in this article, and the first one is a 50km ride that has to be done by May 19th! I’d better get on it! There’s a second qualifying ride of 100km and a final qualifier of two back-to-back 100km rides over two days. They really do a good job of helping all of the riders be prepared for the trek.
Each rider sets her or his own fundraising goal, with the minimum being $2500. That means each and every single rider must raise AT LEAST $2500. It’s a HUGE commitment, and each person has their own strategy of how to raise the funds. Some ask friends and family, or ride their bike on a stationary stand outside the local liquor store asking for donations.
Like most, I’ve employed a combination strategy. My fundraising goal is $7,500, and I’ve made the first donation to my own campaign. As a graduate student I have a small but manageable and stable budget, and have donated an amount which I’ve needed to make a few sacrifices to contribute.
I’ve donated $1000. Although my student loans would have appreciated that money going there instead, I’ve made this donation in hopes that it will help inspire people to make meaningful donations, or to otherwise get involved in the bike rally.
The mission of the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation is to “engage people living with HIV/AIDS in enhancing their health and wellbeing through practical and therapeutic support services and broader social change, and [they] inspire them to live into their dreams and discoveries”. I truly believe that my engagement in this bike rally is helping to forward this mission. Not only through the capacity of this organization to do meaningful work with the funds I’m raising, but through the existence of this bike rally at all: I am a person living with HIV and I am enhancing my own health and wellbeing through this experience.
The Toronto People with AIDS Foundation provides direct support to many of the 15,000 people living with HIV in Toronto, many of whom are experiencing concurrent axes of marginalization such as homelessness, homophobia, underemployment or various forms of racism. The holistic approach employed by this organization provides meaningful and comprehensive support that I believe truly empowers and improves the lives of those of us living with HIV in Toronto, and our communities.
For more information about the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation please visit pwatoronto.org. And for more information about the Friends for Life Bike Rally please visit bikerally.org. (If interested you can donate to my fundraising goal by going here.)