LSR Journal: Doubly positive

E-racing Stigma team captain David Hodge, left, and his team members

David Hodge, captain of the E-racing Stigma team for Lone Star Ride, says cycling for the cause is in his blood

M.M. ADJARIAN | Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS cyclist David Hodge is what you could call doubly positive: Not only is he one of the most upbeat, life-loving people you could hope to meet; he also happens to live with the very disease that LSRFA exists to combat.

When he turned 40 five years ago, Hodge decided to mark his definitive entry into middle age with a celebration of physical fitness.

“I wanted to do something big and fantastic,” the Parkland imaging specialist recalls. “Some friends of mine and I were talking about bicycling, [something] I hadn’t even thought about for a while. I hadn’t been on a bicycle in 20 years.”

So Hodge immediately began training — but not for the LSRFA.

“We have a similar ride in Atlanta,” he says. “The name of the event is the AIDS Vaccine (AV) 200 and [it benefits] the Emory AIDS Vaccine Center. I [started participating in] 2006.”

As the name suggests, the Atlanta ride covers 200 miles, about 20 more than LSRFA. It also takes place in late spring (May) rather than late summer (September).

Hodge’s resume also includes two appearances in the seven-day AIDS LifeCyle Ride, which takes place every year in June. The route covers approximately 600 miles between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Hodge officially began riding with the LSRFA just last year, when he moved from Atlanta to Dallas. But already he’s doing double duty as the captain of one of the oldest teams to be saddling up for the event: E-racing Stigma, the LSRFA Positive Pedalers team.

“The whole concept [for the team] came from [a desire] to get the word out,” he says. “Just because you have an [HIV] diagnosis, that is not a death sentence anymore so long as you take care of yourself. You really can be an active member of society and help out anywhere you can.”

As team captain, Hodge fulfills a number of important duties.

“[I’m] the person who gets all the information out, whether we’re having social events or training rides,” he explains. “[I also have to] keep people motivated to get their fundraising done. [Our] team is also very involved in the closing ceremonies.”

Participating on a team like E-racing Stigma is a lot like riding with family. Members bond through similarities — in this case, positive diagnoses. At the same time, they also take care of each other on the road.

Says Hodge, “In the bicycling community, when you go and out and deplete your body of every ounce of water and electrolytes and food, [you’re in danger of] ‘bonking.’ Your fellow riders watch out for those kinds of [potential problems].”

A potentially deadly disease may reside in Hodge’s body, but so does an equally passionate dedication to cycling for the community he loves. In May, the E-racing Stigma team captain returned to Atlanta to participate in the 2011 AV200; and recently, the odometer reading on Hodge’s current bicycle slipped over the 4,000-mile mark.

“[The cause] is something that’s very dear to my heart, so that’s why I keep doing what I do and cycling as many miles as I can,” he says. “It’s in my blood now and I can’t stop doing it.”

Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS will be held Sept. 24-25. To donate to an individual rider, to a team or to the Ride itself, go online to LoneStarRide.org.

—  John Wright

LSR Journal: Watching her ‘baby’ grow

As first LSR event manager, Janie Bush is proud of her role as the event’s ‘mother’

M.M. ADJARIAN | Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

Janie Bush calls the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS her “baby,” a term that suggests deep affection for the event.

But get to know her and you’ll see that “baby” isn’t just a figure of speech. It’s a word that identifies the Trinity River Foundation office manager for what she is — the birth mother of the Lone Star Ride.

Conception wasn’t a solo act for Bush; she had help from a few men she names as Ride “fathers.”

The first was Larry Townsend, who, like Bush, had been affiliated with the LSR’s predecessor, the Texas Tanqueray AIDS Ride. His profound disappointment at how little money TTAR had raised for its beneficiary agencies mirrored Bush’s own.

“So we put together a proposal and said, ‘We can do this,’” recalled Bush. “[After talking] with Don Maison at AIDS Services of Dallas and Mike McKay, who was the AIDS Outreach Center of Tarrant County executive director at the time, we kicked [the proposal] back and forth and decided to go for it.”

Bush then took over as the first Lone Star Ride event manager in 2001, a position she held for five years. Like all new “mothers,” the ardor she had for her “newborn” was boundless; and so she signed on as the first rider, only to discover she’d bitten off more than she could chew.

“[I had no] clue what the LSR was going to be like,” she laughed. “I thought I’d have plenty of time to train in addition to creating the Ride. And then I found I had no time to get on my bike for the event.”

Her background as an investment banker and non-profit professional made her the ideal person to guide the LSR through its sometimes-turbulent infancy and early childhood. That Bush had also been a witness to the deaths of numerous friends afflicted with AIDS served as her own painful private goad.

“I lost my first two friends in 1987 when they were still quarantined at the hospital,” she said. “It was pretty horrific.”

During Bush’s tenure, not a single penny — whether earned or spent — ever went unaccounted for, she said. Her hard working ways and tightfisted fiscal conservatism put the organization on solid financial footing in short order.

At the same time, both traits also became the focal point for some good-natured personal ribbing.

Remembered Bush, “I was pretty well known for only getting a few hours of sleep in the last couple of weeks prior to Ride, because I would stay in the office until really late. So the first night [after a ride], I would fall into a very deep sleep at camp.”

One year, a few participants decided to play a joke on her.

“More often than not, I would sleep in my car because the seats reclined,” she said, clearly enjoying the memory. “Some of the riders and crew went out to my car and totally wrapped it in toilet paper and caution tape. They were waiting with cameras for me when I woke up.”

Here Bush began to chuckle. “[After I came out,] they said to me, ‘We spent our own money to buy the toilet paper. It’s not ride TP!’”

Although she retired as event manager in 2006, Bush has continued to nurture the Ride in less direct — but no less impactful — ways; a child may grow up, but a mother always remains a mother.

“I’m [always] available to answer questions,” said Bush. “And [new event manager] Jerry Calumn and I have spent a lot of time talking about stuff. As long as we continue to increase the amount of money brought in and stay somewhat steady with the ridership, [I’ll be glad].

“But I would absolutely love to see him blow that out of the water,” she added.

Pride, and a certain wistfulness, characterize the way Bush describes what she and her LSR colleagues have done to help her “baby” find its way in the world. It’s an experience on par with childbirth — or even volunteering on behalf of the Ride, for that matter.

“Every muscle in your aches, including muscles you didn’t know existed,” she said. “And then you forget it. And then you’re ready to do it again.”

—  John Wright

LSR Journal: Finding the route to success

Richard Treat has been with LSR since the beginning, as a rider and route planner

M.M. ADJARIAN | Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

As one of the first “route architects” of the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS, Richard Treat can tell you that one of the most crucial elements in route planning is variety.

He can also tell you that he’s one of the proud and hardy few able to say that he’s ridden in all 10 of Lone Star Rides.

A veteran of the 1999 and 2000 Texas Tanqueray AIDS Rides organized by Palotta TeamWorks, Treat jumped at the chance to become involved in the Lone Star Ride, which emerged from TTAR’s controversial ashes.

“[TTAR provided] a limited percentage of return to its beneficiaries,” Treat says. “And the beneficiaries felt they could do better if they took it upon themselves to conduct their own event. I had at that point expressed an interest in becoming involved in the [LSR] steering committee, and my role ended up being route planning.”

In the beginning, the routes took cyclists from Fort Worth to Dallas or Dallas to Fort Worth. While riders could never be sure from year to year of the actual roads that would comprise the ride, they could always be assured of one thing: Diversity.

Says Treat, “It was always a challenge to come up with a good route. [It would have to have] scenic elements to it, preferably on lesser-traveled roads. [And it] would also have to have a physical challenge to it in certain spots.”

Starting in 2009, the more or less straight-line trajectory of the route changed. Now each day of the ride begins and ends at the American Airlines Training Center in Fort Worth, on Hwy. 360, just south of Hwy. 183. One leg of the ride typically takes place in Tarrant County and the other in Dallas County, giving the route a figure 8 shape.

It’s a mild twist of irony that Treat has traveled down a varied life road himself. The self-described “war baby” was born in Fort Benton, Mont., one year before the formal surrender of Japan in World War II.

“Right after graduation from high school [in Billings, Montana], I decided to go to Abilene Christian to do my bachelors. And that’s how I got to Texas,” he says.

From Texas, Treat’s path wound through Mexico, Columbia and Argentina, where he did church work for almost nine years.

He then returned to Texas and became a New Testament translation consultant for an organization in Fort Worth. From there, he migrated into a position at Verizon and later, one at Marcus High School in Flower Mound, where he taught Spanish.

He has now retired from teaching in public schools.

Although Treat has participated in other charity rides — such as the MS 150 — LSR is especially close to his heart.

“[I do it for] friends who are HIV-positive [or who] have died,” he explains. “I’m committed to the work of the agencies involved [in putting together the LSR].”

After a moment’s reflection he also adds, “I myself have also been a recipient of services that [the agencies] perform with community.”

Treat points out that unlike the Texas Tanqueray AIDS Ride that preceded it, the Lone Star Ride began as a local event in which every dollar earned went straight to the beneficiaries. Now the goal is to make the LSR a larger event. But to do that, it will need, in part, to draw more mainstream cycling enthusiasts from the Metroplex.

“I think a lot of people in the cycling community perceive it as a gay event, and there’s perhaps a certain amount of stigma [attached to the LSR] for that reason,” Treat observes.

Still, the Lone Star Ride is growing, albeit slowly. Any apparent obstacles it encounters along its own path are simply part and parcel of a bigger, more important journey.

“It’s just the challenge of the route,” Treat says.

Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS takes place Sept. 24-25. For details or to donate to a specific rider or team or to the ride in general, go online to LoneStarRide.org.

—  John Wright

Lone Star Ride Journal: The cycling bard

Valerie Skinner has, for 8 years, put the poetic coda on the end of the annual Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS

M.M. ADJARIAN | Contributing writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

Valerie Skinner loves to tell stories. And for eight of the last 10 years, she has harnessed her talents to write the narrative poems that have become a staple of the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS closing ceremonies.

Indeed, her efforts have become so much a part of the ride experience that for many, to imagine the event concluding without Skinner reciting her poetic coda has become unthinkable.

The LSR’s “cycling bard” is also the administrator and vice president of the Holloway Family Foundation, which helps individuals who — through illness, age or disability — cannot help themselves. For the first six years of LSR, the HFF was the presenting sponsor; since then, it has become a stalwart contributor.

“[In1999], Mike McKay, then executive director of the AIDS Outreach Center, talked with me about whether our family foundation would be interested in sponsoring this new event,” Skinner recalls. “We were already [donating to] the three targeted beneficiary agencies [AIDS Outreach Center, AIDS Services of Dallas and the Resource Center of Dallas]. So of course I thought it was a fantastic idea.”

Skinner had no intention of doing more than offer financial assistance through the organization that her parents, Graham and Carolyn Holloway, had established in 1994. However, her attitude changed drastically after she attended the first LSR closing ceremony in 2001.

“The energy and excitement of the crew and the riders and everybody that was participating — it was overwhelming,” says Skinner. “I don’t really even have the right adjectives to describe what a powerful experience it was. And I just thought, ‘Wow! I don’t just want to be an outsider, I want to be involved in this.’”

Her enthusiasm piqued, Skinner promptly bought a bicycle and began to train to do the full ride, which typically averages 175 miles over two days. But between her duties at the Holloway Foundation and the demands of her four-child, three-dog household, she was unable to cycle more than a minimal amount for an LSR “marathoner” — just 20 to 30 miles a week.

Despite always finishing dead last (or very close to it), Skinner prides herself on having peddled almost every mile. She does admit, though, to having used the LSR sweep truck one year to cover five miles she simply could not manage.

“I was so far behind,” she explains, “that I knew it would detrimentally affect other people in the ride.”

Being consistently among the “LSR laggards” never bothered Skinner. If anything, her dogged slowness and ability to evade LSR sweep trucks when she’s just a few miles shy of ride’s end — but also late to the finish line — have gained her notoriety.

“I don’t try to do it on purpose. I just call it playing my diva card,” says the rogue cyclist. Or her poet’s card. Jotting down the lines of verse she will read at the LSR closing ceremonies, after all, takes time.

For Skinner, being part of the LSR isn’t only about participating in a worthy cause. It’s also about spending time with what she calls her “ride family” and having fun, even under what can sometimes be very trying circumstances.

She remembers a time when she and an old college chum were cycling along an open stretch of road during the 2005 LSR. The weather was hot and unbearably humid; it was a day that had chased everyone else indoors.

“We [were passing by] this farm and there was this methane gas from these cows,” she says. “And it was just the nastiest thing. We [wanted] to throw up. We were so sick [and] hated each other for being out there.”

Then rain from a sudden storm soaked both women to the bone.

“We started bobbling and then she fell under me and I fell into a ditch,” Skinner laughs. “It sounds silly, but it was one of the most crazy fun experiences ever. I don’t know how, but we finished. And [what with] the pictures we have and everything else, it was a great memory.”

Skinner is definitely not your average rider. But listening to her talk about her experiences, you get the impression she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS takes place Sept. 24-25. For details or to donate to a specific rider or team or to the ride in general, go online to Lone StarRide.org.

—  John Wright

LSR Journal: Creating magic for the cause

Robin King

Robin and Sylvia King help make opening and closing ceremonies something special at LSR

M.M. ADJARIAN | Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

Creating the magic that is the Lone Star Ride is a group effort. Just ask Robin King, who, along with his wife and business partner, Sylvia, runs Ambient Stage Lighting Inc.

This quietly dynamic duo has been part of LSR from the beginning. In 2001, they served as pit crew volunteers. But from 2002 on, they signed on as official sponsors and have since overseen the staging, lighting and sound elements that go into the opening and closing ceremonies and the ever-popular Saturday night Camp Show.

Setting up the props, truss riggings, lights, speakers and microphones that are part of those events, only to take them down a few hours later, is no glamour job. It’s hard work.

“But to Sylvia and me, it’s second nature,” the ASL company president says. “It’s what we do as our profession every day.”

Since all the LSR events, including the entertainment, take place outside, King and his wife are at the mercy of the elements. And in this, they are no different from anyone else who rides or crews for the event.

But what makes this part of LSR a challenge for them is that they, unlike other participants, can’t seek shelter from inclement weather. The show must go on regardless of the havoc Mother Nature may wreak.

So when the great Saturday rainout of 2010 happened, the Kings couldn’t just sit tight and wait alongside the LSR riders and pit crew members at the American Airlines Training and Conference Center, located on Hwy. 360, just south of Hwy. 183.

“[We had] to pull the trigger and cancel anything electrical — the fun, creative stuff,” King remembers. “We [ended up] scrambling around, coming up with last-minute, makeshift alternatives that we could pull off inside.”

Despite situational constraints, the entertainment portion of the 2010 LSR was still a success, largely because of a shared sense of commitment among those directly involved with it.

Says King, “The band expected to get this nice stage and a little additional space and extra sound support. They were in the same position [as we were], but they perform[ed] regardless of the circumstances.”

The couple first became aware of LSR when a lighting technician named Tim Olson — who was among the very first group of LSR cyclists — told them about it.

The decision to participate was an easy one for both. This was especially true for Sylvia, who has seen what HIV and AIDS can do close up: Her maternal uncle lives with the disease.

Eleven years later, King and his wife can’t imagine not being part of the ride. It’s become too much a part of their lives for them to ever stop participating.

And Robin and Sylvia King help make LSR something participants look forward to every September. What they do follows a life-and-death cycle of sorts, but one that, like the riding itself, is meant to bring a permanent end to suffering and death that AIDS has caused among so many millions in the last 30 years.

“That’s really what it’s all about and the sole reason why I do it,” King says.

Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS takes place Sept. 24-25. For more details or to donate to a specific rider or team, or to the event overall, go online to LoneStarRide.org.

—  John Wright