M.M. Adjarian | Contributing Writer
Cycling for the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS ultimately means giving people with HIV and AIDS a chance at a better quality of life. But as Dallas IT professional James Cannata can attest, saddling up on behalf of others can also offer unexpected lessons in faith and self-confidence.
Cannata had known about the LSR for a number of years prior to his official entry into it this year. But overweight as he was, Cannata never thought he could become an event participant, let alone an LSR cyclist.
“When I got my bike last year, it was the first one I’d owned since I was a teenager,” a somewhat embarrassed Cannata admits. And his first efforts at a return to cycling were frankly halfhearted.
He estimates that in 2010, he rode no more than six or seven miles; and the bicycle that was to have awakened his inner athlete became little more than a two-wheeled dust-collector.
Despite the anemic mileage totals, the 41-year-old Cannata was able to follow through on a health and fitness program he’d also begun at about the same time. When he finally took the Ride plunge at the LSR kickoff party last May, he had lost 30 pounds and kicked a 25-year-plus smoking habit.
Says the IT tech,“ I thought to myself, ‘I’m in a little better shape now.’ I had come a long way in the last year-and-a-half, so I decided I could [finally] do the Ride and help out other people.”
But then Cannata had an attack of nerves. In his mind, he was a cycling newbie whose sole experience with fundraising had consisted of selling candy for his Cub Scout troop. Who was he to be doing the LSR?
“I called [event manager] Jerry [Calumn] and told him there was no way I would be able to raise my goal of $1,200,” Cannata recalls. “Besides which, we were going to be riding on real streets on our bikes, with real traffic going by. And these were real miles in real weather.”
Cannata was ready to give the $200 he had already raised back to his sponsors. Calumn, who saw more in Cannata than he could see in himself, immediately got the flustered IT tech in touch with another, more experienced rider who took him on a test ride.
“And I just absolutely loved it,” Cannata beams. “I was kind of stunned that I had done 10 or 12 miles; it was just amazing for me. I couldn’t believe I’d done that, you know?”
Since then, Cannata has worked up to doing 30 miles per ride. Now he fully expects to achieve his goal of doing 90 miles during the two days the Ride will take place.
The encouragement he received from other LSR members helped Cannata believe in himself and carry on towards his goal. And as Cannata has moved along his path, he’s seen still other positives emerge.
“When I look at the people who have donated to this ride,” he says, “it’s amazing to see the level of support, especially [among] my heterosexual allies who are very close friends. They have donated quite a bit of money. It’s just so amazing that these people are proud of me for doing this.”
The upcoming Ride will be a challenge for Cannata, but one he’s now ready to embrace with open arms. After all, all the hurdles he has — or has yet — to overcome, are nothing compared to those facing the people for whom he is riding.
“There are just some people who don’t have the financial means to take care of their basic day-to-day needs,” says Cannata. “But I’m going to know that I took part in changing someone’s life [by] putting food on someone’s table for a couple of months. Or getting someone medicine [or] emotional support.”
Radiant with newfound self-belief, he adds, “Whatever effort, whatever pain I [go] through [will be] so worth it.”
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.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 5, 2011.