AJ Long

AJ and Damien

I’ve  been teaching indoor cycling in Atlanta since 2007. In 2010, two new guys began taking my class. They told me that they were training for the AV200; I’d never heard of it. They explained that it is a two-day 200-mile charity bike ride that benefits the Emory Vaccine Center’s research for an AIDS vaccine. They asked me to join them; I thought they were insane! There was NO WAY in the world that I could possibly ride two hundred miles. Of course, being a proud cycle instructor, I wasn’t going to tell them that; instead, I told them (truthfully) that I didn’t own a bike.

Two years later, Todd Higginbotham began taking my class in preparation for the AV200. This time, having knowledge of the ride, I congratulated him on his acceptance of the challenge. He, too, suggested that I join him and his team — Jerusalem House. I told Todd that I didn’t own a bicycle, but had been looking for a reason to buy one. In February of 2012, I bought my first road bike.

With the exception of my weekly indoor cycling classes, I had not been on a bicycle since the early 90’s, and back then, I owned a comfort bike that had fat tires and a beverage coozie on the handlebars. Furthermore, I was really intimidated by the minimum fundraising amount of $500. I don’t have a large circle of friends and my immediate family is small. I had no idea how I was going to raise any money.

But then, I realized that I had a dedicated and appreciative group of people who come to my classes four times a week. So, I decided to bring them along on my journey. Before each class, I spoke briefly about the AV200 and the Emory Vaccine Center. I told them about training rides and related everything that I was learning about cycling on the road to our indoor classes. I shared with them my fundraising goal, my team’s goal, and Action Cycling Atlanta’s goal. I made donation sheets available, and created thank you cards for all my donors that doubled as invitations to the post-ride dinner. Additionally, I included each donor’s name in a thank you letter that I posted on my Facebook page, and linked their names to THEIR Facebook pages.

Thanks to all my donors! Join me on my 2013 ride?!

Thanks to all my donors! Join me on my 2013 ride?!

I was amazed by the response I received! In addition to the donations that I received from members, I also began receiving donations from Facebook friends! My initial fundraising goal was $500, but with the overwhelming support from family, friends, and gym members, I raised $2,595! Team Jerusalem house raised $68,590, and Action Cycling Atlanta was able to write checks totaling over $295,000 to the EVC and its beneficiaries.

Then, ride day came. While there were fantastic pit stops with fabulous themes along the way, the 106 miles to Rock Eagle was nonetheless challenging. Yes, riding with my new buddies was great, but there were many times when I was on the road alone. There were times when I felt the wind would never stop, the hills would never end, and my bike wanted me off. I found myself questioning why I had ever committed to such an undertaking. When these negative thoughts crept into my head, I wanted to stop. To give up. But, I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. I had to push the thoughts out.

Mark Loehr, myself, and Tom Guest in Madison, GA on Day 1...

Mark Loehr, myself, and Tom Guest in Madison, GA on Day 1, representing Team Jerusalem House!

In his blog post, Chuck Podgurski wrote that cycling is a metaphor for life. He’s right. I could not give up. I could not give up because there were people who would have gladly taken my place and ridden these miles had they lived to do so. I could not give up because HIV/AIDS researchers would not give up on their search for a vaccine. And I could not give up because there are people who endure much worse than wind or saddle sores every day as they fight for their lives because there is no vaccine, there is no cure, and they do not have access to treatment because they can’t afford it.

At a different AIDS charity event, I stood shocked as I listened to one of the organizers tell a group of the event’s supporters that HIV/AIDS is now just a chronic disease like diabetes. This may be true if you have access to and can afford the medications. The speaker seemed to have forgotten about the millions of people around the world (and in this country!) who neither have access to nor can afford the necessary treatment. For them, AIDS is not a chronic disease. For them, AIDS is a death sentence. So, for them — the forgotten — I ride.

The Forgotten

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