About av200

Action Cycling Atlanta, a 100% volunteer-run organization, produces the AIDS Vaccine 200 (AV200), a 2-day, 200-mile ride that raises money for AIDS vaccine research. To date, ACA has raised $1 million for AIDS vaccine research. ACA has donated 100% of all money raised by participants to its beneficiaries: the Emory Vaccine Center, Jerusalem House, Positive Impact, and AIDS Athens.

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


Scott Drinkard


When I was a young child, I loved riding my bike. I grew up in a small town in the “country” so saying I rode through the neighborhood is stretching it. My first new bike was a 10-speed. I rode that thing everywhere. As soon as I would get home from school, I would jump on that bike and ride EVERYwhere.

When I graduated from high school and went off to college, I started running; running was my stress reliever and a way for me to get away from everything. For the next 15 years, my life revolved around running. Luckily, I never experienced any injuries. I would jump on a bike from time to time, but running was my sport.

Several years ago, I heard about AV200 but never thought it was something I could do. Run marathons, yes! Ride 200 miles… no way! One fall day in 2011, Chris Bess and I were eating lunch and all he could talk about was “the RIDE.” I honestly thought to myself there was no way I could possibly ride two hundred miles, but training for such an event would give me the push I needed to prepare for a triathlon. I went home that afternoon and signed up for the AV200 and as they say, the rest is history!

me and chris; he's already suckered me into the ride!

me and chris; he’s already suckered me into the ride!

I  must admit my initial intent was not just about AV200 and cause, but merely a way to get in better shape. The thought of fundraising scared me to death, and then actually riding alongside tens of riders petrified me. Riding alone was one thing, but heading out with so many other riders just wasn’t something I was prepared to do. After a few training rides with Chris and a few others, I decided it was time to invest in a better bike and gear — I had to look good, right??

In no time, I was hooked on riding and raising money for such an incredible cause. I would find myself out on my bike and my mind would think about all the many men, women, and kids who couldn’t ride the 10, 20, 30 miles I was getting to enjoy. Finally I was finding a way to combine things that mean something to me — exercise and doing good for others. While I didn’t meet my goals the first year I participated in the ride, I collected more money than I imagined possible for someone that wasn’t comfortable asking for money.  I was amazed at how many people wanted to be part of my journey — inquiring about my training rides, the scrapes on my legs, and opening their wallets!

There are so many incredible moments from my first AV200 experience. I have made some incredible friendships with people I would probably have never met had it not been for AV200. The one memory that will play over and over in my mind is that overwhelming feeling riding back from Decatur to Emory on Sunday. The feeling of exhaustion, a sense of accomplishment, actually riding 200+ miles and a connection with 200 of my “closest friends.” I can’t wait to ride again in 2013. See you out there!

2012 Vaccine Trial Update

If you’ve ever wondered what the status of HIV vaccine research is thus far… wonder no more! We were lucky enough to receive an update from John Beal, who attended an HIV Vaccine Trials Network conference this past October. The Hope Clinic of the Emory Vaccine Center is a site of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network. Twice a year, the Network researchers and community gather to review the latest findings.

To understand a bit more about the findings, first – there are four phases of trials:

Phase I trial – This is an early clinical trial designed to study an experimental vaccine in humans. Phase I trials are generally small (less than 100 participants) and designed to see if the product is safe.

Phase II trial – This is an intermediate clinical trial for studying an experimental vaccine in humans. The goals of Phase II trials are usually to learn more about vaccine safety and to see if the vaccine generates an immune response. Phase II trials, which involve hundreds of participants, occur only after the experimental vaccine is shown to be safe in a smaller Phase I trial.

Phase IIb trial – A Phase IIb (or test-of-concept) trial is about finding out if the vaccine concept or the type of vaccine candidate being tested will be effective. A test-of-concept trial is not designed to establish the efficacy of a particular candidate but rather to help researchers decide if a candidate is worth testing in larger Phase III trials. These intermediate studies are also referred to as proof-of-concept trials. The number of volunteers required for such trials is smaller, around 2,000 to 5,000 volunteers, compared to over 10,000 for Phase III trials.

Phase III trial – This is an advanced clinical trial in humans designed to prove whether or not a vaccine is effective. Phase III trials involve thousands of participants and occur only after the experimental vaccine has successfully moved from a Phase I and Phase II trial.

So where do we stand today regarding HIV vaccine trials? Here are some of the conference highlights:

  • The results of the Phase III Thai trial that showed for the first time some protective ability are still being analyzed to understand both how it worked and how to make the protection more effective and last longer.
  • There are 6 new vaccine trials in the planning stages.
  • There are currently 5 active vaccine trials.

Preliminary results for Dr. Harriet Robinson’s phase II vaccine candidate HVTN 205 were presented and shows promising results. This vaccine contains many of the elements of the Thai vaccine and is showing a stronger ability to prompt an immune response in early analysis. The vaccine has not been tested yet for efficacy which is the next step. Dr. Robinson was an early advocate of the theory that binding antibodies that would attach to the virus would be effective in stopping the virus. Current research is showing that in fact this does show potential. Additionally, a new version of Dr. Robinson’s Geovax vaccine, HVTN 094, is currently enrolling.

The Hope Clinic is one of the sites participating in the largest most anticipated phase IIb trials, HVTN 505. This is a trial enrolling 2200 men that expects to be fully enrolled by next May. The results of this study are hoped to be a further step toward understanding how to produce an effective vaccine. If the results are strong enough this could move to phase III.

A big change to the HIV Vaccine Trials Network is coming over the next few years. The HVTN focus for trials will shift to southern Africa. The Emory Vaccine Center and Hope Clinic will be combining with other sites in the US to establish partnerships with trial sites in Asia and Africa. For the first time, the Gates Foundation will be helping to fund two massive trials.

For more information about current HIV vaccine trials, check out the HVTN website: www.hvtn.org

Belva White

Never say never. My friend David Hanson, a former AV200 rider, asked me over 5 years ago if I would ride 35 miles in a ride that started at Emory and went to Madison and back.  I told him he was crazy, I didn’t own a bike and even if I did, I would never ride that far.

I haven’t been cycling for long – less than 5 years – and I only did my first century ride in May 2011; all 100 miles of which were ridden in one gear because I didn’t know how to change gears.  It’s hard to believe that in 2012, I pedaled over 1700 miles with 1090 of those dedicated to AIDS. I plan to ride another 1000 in 2013 with the AV200 (200 miles), the AIDS LifeCycle (545 miles) and the Charity Treks (425 miles).

One thing is for sure – I don’t do this because I’m a great cyclist.  I’m very slow and generally take pride in escorting the SAG vehicles into camp.  Hills still make me say bad words and I get to see all of the cool jerseys as other riders pass me.  So for anyone out there who thinks they aren’t good enough to tackle the AV200 challenge – you’ll have to find another excuse as this has nothing to do with being a good cyclist!  It has EVERYTHING to do with passion and wanting to change the future.

During my 14 days of the year pedaling for AIDS, I’m just a rider like everyone else.  No one cares about titles, about politics, about financial status or any of the other unimportant themes we run into during “real life.”  When I first signed up for the AV200, I did so because I learned a friend is HIV positive.  I started a journey of trying to learn more about it and was quickly confronted with the associated stigma.  I asked my AV200 memorial donors last year to tell me about their friend or partner.  The words they shared with me changed my future.  They ignited a fire within me that I cannot really explain but feel called to honor. 

Team St. Mark, at the start of the 2012 AV200.

I have been asked why I ride so many miles for HIV/AIDS and there are a number of reasons.  First, I believe that an AIDS vaccine is the only way to truly end this epidemic.  Second, I believe that I am called to care for people currently dealing with the challenges HIV/AIDS and I personally love and know many of them.  Third, I believe that stigma is flat-out wrong.  Fourth, the stories of HIV/AIDS victims move me and I want the world to know how special they are/were.

If you have ever seen a mob of cyclists on the road, you are aware of how they demand your attention.  By riding together in the AV200, we are collectively raising awareness for an AIDS vaccine.  WE are that mob.  WE are noticed.  At rest stops, you might be asked why you are riding and the door is opened for education and perhaps collecting a dollar or two for the cause.  Together, WE make a difference.

The AV200 ride really is for everyone.  The relay rides allow for a fun, less stressful ride for anyone preferring a shorter route.  There are plenty of Couch to Century training guides to get you ready and the support of the AV200 ride leaders is amazing.  They will get you ready and it is NOT a race (I’m proof of that!) but it is a journey and one that will change the way you see the world.

…at mile 1000 for AIDS in 2012. What an accomplishment, Belva!