545 MILES OF HOPE | Wild Stallions Trae Schaefer, Christy Lestina and Burt Barber raise money on Saturday to pay for their rides in California this summer. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Lone Star Ride veterans the Wild Stallions take their biking-for-bucks operation on the road

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer

There are much faster ways to get from San Francisco to Los Angeles. But few more scenic. Or more charitable. For a solid week — this year from June 5–11 — more than 2,500 cyclists will pedal the 545 miles between two major California towns to raise money for fighting and bringing awareness to AIDS.

But you don’t need to be from Cali to participate. Indeed, among that group of enthusiasts pumping along the Pacific Coast Highway will be Dallas’ Wild Stallions.

Made up of gays and straights alike, The Stallions are united in their love of biking and their desire to help a greater cause. Saturday, the team hosts a two-hour Spin-A-Thon at the Cooper Aerobics Center to help raise money to get the cyclists ready to ride. It’s not small change to enter: A minimum of $3,000 per rider is needed to cover the cost of travel, hotels, meals, entry fees and the cost to ship their bicycles.

It’s all part of the fun of cycling for a cause. In 2002, Stallion Burt Barber was invited to a fundraising event for the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS. At the time, he chose to donate money rather than participate because the idea of riding 175 miles over two days seemed nearly impossible.

Nine years later, he’s an old hand, preparing for a ride more than three times as long. Following back surgery in 2003, Barber was no longer able to run, so he quickly took up cycling as an alternative.

“As I started training, I met friends and we started training together. We named our group the Wild Stallions after an energy drink at the 7-11 by White Rock Lake that we made into a pit stop during our training rides,” Barber says. “We trained hard and realized how fun and enjoyable this has become, so we started to ride in various charity rides.”

The Stallions have participated in the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS every year since 2003 and have no plans of stopping. The California ride is just an opportunity to raise awareness in a different way. This year will mark Barber’s second time in the AIDS LifeCycle, his first just two years ago.

“That was a difficult ride emotionally for me,” Barber says. “One week before that ride, I paid a visit and said my goodbye to Jason Harmon. This was difficult because as I said goodbye,

Jason told me to come back and tell him how the ride went.” Two days before the ride began, Harmon passed away.

“Jason was inspirational to me and instrumental in my cycling. He was the crew captain and always cheered me on training rides. And on the rides themselves, he was always there flagging me in and pushing me to finish.”

Barber rides in his honor and for Janet Park, the woman who first introduced him to the Lone Star Ride.

For fellow Wild Stallion Trae Schaefer, participating in the ride is essential to getting out a bigger message.

“There is a misconception by a lot of people that HIV/AIDS is no longer a life-threatening disease because of all the progress with the various medications,” he says. “You see advertisements every day that make it look like simply taking a pill will allow you to lead a normal, healthy life even if you are HIV-positive. Anyone who knows someone who is positive and takes these pills knows there are serious side effects, which are sometimes just as bad as the disease itself. We need to remind people that no cure has been found and we need to remember all of those that have died from this dreadful disease.”

He says this ride, like so many others, provides awareness, remembrance, and most importantly, a reality check.

Straight team member Christy Lestina participates for personal reasons, as well.

“I have friends who are HIV-positive and need my support. I have also had a dear friend pass away from AIDS in 1993 and I am still saddened by his loss. I want to make a difference in my friends’ lives who are affected by it,” she says. “I feel that riding my bike 545 miles is the least I can do to ease their pain.”

It has benefits for the riders as well, though.

“What you really get is a sense of becoming part of a family, knowing that all the hard work you put in fundraising, training and riding really does make a difference for a lot of people,” Schaefer says. “You get to personally meet these people and hear about how much you help change their lives by doing something as simple as riding your bike for seven days. I may not be able to donate a million dollars, but after the ride, I feel like I have.”

Cooper Aerobics Center, 12200 Preston Road. April 16, 1-3 p.m. Anyone interested in donating to the Wild Stallions can email Burt.Barber@yahoo.com or visit AIDSLifeCycle.org and donate in the name of a team member.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 15, 2011.