Sometimes it is difficult to find time to take a good, hard look at yourself. During the first AIDS Ride in Texas in 1998, that’s what I did — and it changed me forever.
I set out to do the first AIDS Ride because of an ad in the Dallas Voice. It was a simple ad. It was a challenge — a challenge to ride, a challenge to do something extraordinary, a challenge to make a difference, to take a stand for those we love who were unable to ride.
It was a challenge to educate people about HIV and it was a challenge to fight AIDS.
I got excited as I considered this challenge, and it soon became very personal. I had to find the courage to make the commitment. And then I had to convince others I was serious.
I got responses like, "You’re crazy," "You’ll never make it," You’re not fit enough," "You don’t even own a bike."
Strangely enough, it was those words of concern and doubt that lit a fire under me and fueled my determination. I made up my mind and I accepted the challenge.
I was driven; I was excited, and yes, I was challenged. The more I heard about the ride, the more committed I became. I kept talking about it, and things began to change.
Don Ritz, one of the owners of the Dallas Voice, decided he, too, was interested, and before I knew what was happening, we had a team of Dallas Voice riders: me, Don and my best friend, Kelly Murphy.
It saddens me to say that Don’s health failed, and, although he was there in spirit, he was unable to make the ride. But Kelly and I continued to prepare until finally the day came to hop on our bikes and begin our journey.
By that time, the ride had become so much more to me. I was riding for someone else now; I was riding for Don.
The morning of the first day of the ride changed me forever. I had no idea the impact those first few minutes of the ride would have on the rest of my life.
People lined the streets cheering us on as we set out. They were cheering me on. Lots of people, people I didn’t even know, holding up banners and signs, waving their arms.
Friends, partners, kids, moms, dads, coworkers — I personally didn’t have any loved ones there that day, but it didn’t matter. The cheering crowds were there for all of us, for me and Kelly, but even more, they were there for Don.
I cried for the first hour of the ride, tears streaming steadily down my face. I will never forget how that first hour gave me overwhelming pride in myself and how it changed me.
I know it sounds a bit silly for a guy who works at the gay newspaper to say he had pride issues, but I did. I grew up in the Bible belt. People didn’t talk about being gay. It was tough.
It took a lot of self-examination to come out at all, much less be proud about it.
But the ride changed that for me. Somehow during that ride, I found myself.
People I didn’t even know reached out to me at my lowest moments during that long, long ride from Austin to Houston to Dallas, and each one helped me along. Always before it had been my own fight, me by myself against the world.
But that changed during the ride. It wasn’t just me any more, it was all of us — 700 riders and crew members, all fighting our own demons and every single last one of us needing some type of helping hand along the way.
And there wasn’t just one helping hand, there were thousands. I realized I was not alone in my struggles. There were others just like me, struggling to find themselves and come to terms with who they were.
We all had our own stories, and all those stories were different. Some were riding for themselves; others were riding for loved ones. But the one thing we had in common was we all had a story.
That first hour of the ride loomed in my mind day after day. I gained strength, commitment and drive from it. I found hope in it — and I found self worth in it.
I became a fighter sitting on a bicycle with not a single person in sight, only me and my thoughts for miles at a time. Just me, my bike and the road, my body aching, begging me to give up the fight, to give in to the heat and the pain. But I fought, and I fought hard.
There were many times I could have given up, too many to count. But I didn’t. Giving up was not an option — I was riding for Don and all my other friends who are affected by HIV and AIDS everyday. They never gave up on me, and I sure as hell was not going to give up on that ride. I rode every mile, and the pride I felt was amazing. I challenged myself, and I crossed that finish line a different person.
The AIDS Ride was the most challenging thing I have ever done, and to this day, I get tears in my eyes when I think about all those I was riding for who are no longer with us. Don, Rex and Dennis: this year, I’m doing The Lone Star Ride for you.
This year I will once again challenge myself: I am trading in my bike helmet and gloves for a crew T-shirt. You see, I know how important it is to have a helping hand on this journey. I had Don and all the crowds of people to cheer me on. I couldn’t have made it with out them.
Today, I challenge every one of you reading my story, just as I was challenged before my first ride: One person can make a difference. I know because I’ve been there.
As I look at how far we have come helping our friends with HIV and AIDS, I realize we have so much more to do. This disease is still winning. But for two days in September during The Lone Star Ride, I guarantee you we will be winning the fight.
My new journey has begun, and now it is time for yours to start. Accept this challenge to ride, and I promise you I will be there with you every pedal stroke of the way. You will know who I am when you see me: I will be the one cheering and crying out of joy for you as you make your way.
The first AIDS Ride changed my life. I know the 2009 Lone Star Ride to fight AIDS will change yours and the lives of thousands of our friends living with HIV and AIDS. Accept The Challenge.
Go to LoneStarRide.org to register to ride or crew. Do it for yourself, or you can it for Don, Rex and Dennis, my three friends who never gave up but have since left us.
Ride for them.
I can’t wait to cheer you on!
The Lone Star Ride Journal will appear weekly in Dallas Voice through Sept. 25, the Friday preceding the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS on Sept. 26-27. Weekly installments will be written by different members of Team Dallas Voice who are either riding in the event or participating as crew members.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 29, 2009.