This month, more than 370 cyclists and 130 crew members in the Friends For Life Bike Rally will embark on a six-day, 660 km adventure from Toronto to Montreal in support of the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation (PWA). The fundraiser, now in its 15th year, accounts for 40 per cent of the PWA’s operating budget and, to date, has raised more than $11 million in accessible services for people living with HIV/AIDS.
“Without it, the PWA in its present form would not exist,” says Robert Tomas, Director of Communications at the PWA. “The community spirit generated during the rally is what keeps people coming back. The physical challenge, overcoming odds. People never forget it.”
We caught up with three riders in this year’s rally to ask why they got involved.
David Wood, 74
Years doing the ride: 5
“I started the ride in response to having a quadruple heart bypass. I was in my hospital room, moaning to my husband about how I always wanted to do the rally but now I couldn’t. Then my surgeon said it would be the best thing for my heart. So I spent two years getting fit and starting training…. When you get older, you have a choice: you can hide in the back corner of a bar and say, ‘I’m not cute and nobody loves me,’ or you can make a conscious decision to start working in the community.”
Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, 45
Years doing the ride: 2
“People often say, ‘Oh, it’s so great that you care this much about the gay community,’ and I laugh because it’s not just about gay people with AIDS. It’s people with AIDS. As a mom of three daughters, I feel it’s an issue that affects everybody. About half of new infections are in women. If one of my daughters got sick, the PWA would be there to help her. We need to stop thinking it’s just one community’s problem.”
Gaelan Love, 26
Years doing the ride: first time
“One of the biggest issues in our community is the HIV stigma. It bothers me. As a young gay man living in Toronto, I witness it all the time. It’s almost as if by talking about HIV/AIDS, people automatically assume you have it, which is ridiculous. I’m riding not only to help those living with the disease, but to also start a respectful dialogue in my social circle without judgment or tension. I want to set an example.”
The Friends For Life Bike Rally runs from July 28th to August 2nd. To donate to the rally, go to bikerally.org.