The crowd cheered, rang cowbells and held up signs as more than 2,300 bicyclists rode into the Veterans Administration center in Westwood on Saturday for the closing ceremonies of the AIDS LifeCycle 10th anniversary Ride to End AIDS.
The riders, including , had just completed a 545-mile, seven-day trek from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The ride, featuring cyclists from 41 states and 11 countries, raised more than $13 million in critically needed funds for the HIV/AIDS-related services of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. The amount raised broke the world record for AIDS fundraising.
“It’s not every day that you meet a hero. It’s certainly not every day that you meet an entire community of heroes,” Michael Barron, AIDS/LifeCycle director, told the crowd. “These riders are heroes, every one of them.”
Anitra Soreano, 30, of Cabazon, was greeted by six screaming and cheering family members as she made her way across the finish line.
“A few years ago my cousin passed away from AIDS, so I thought it would be good to do this in his memory,” Soreano said. “I had also seen it on Queer as Folk and I thought it would be pretty cool to do someday.”
Soreano said she was tired, but that the ride had been an amazing experience.
“It was also a good challenge. I struggled a bit, but I just kept thinking about the finish line and seeing my family,” she said.
Richie Lawrence, 58, of Sacramento, said that while every muscle in his body was sore and he would be happy not to ride a bicycle for a while, he loved the experience.
“It’s obviously a physical challenge, but it’s also about tolerance and supporting the community,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence was part of the Mas Salsa Team, which was made up of close friends and family members, including a brother-in-law who came from New York City to participate.
“That was one of the highlights for me, just to have the whole family together,” Lawrence said.
After all of the celebrating, the Riderless Cycle event, which featured members of the Positive Pedalers Team leading two bicycles with no riders up to the stage to represent the lives lost to HIV/AIDS, reminded everyone about the purpose of the ride.
Actress Jane Lynch, who is a ride veteran and also serves on the board of directors of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, asked the crowd to remember those directly affected by the disease.
“I know we are all in a celebratory mood today, but not all of us could be here, so I want all of you to reflect on those who have passed away from AIDS, and those who continue to battle the disease,” Lynch said.
The riders left San Francisco seven days ago, coincidentally on the anniversary of the day in 1981 when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its first report about the disease that would later be known as AIDS.
California has had more AIDS cases, cumulatively, than any state other than New York, and more than two-thirds of Californians living with HIV live in Los Angeles County or the San Francisco Bay Area.