Hundreds Of Cyclists Ride From Miami To Key West For HIV/AIDS Organizations
Imagine being told you have only 11 days to live. That’s what Glen Weinzimer’s doctors told him when they diagnosed him with AIDS in 1993.
“I was forced to retire and made final arrangements,” he said. “I was in the hospital, and it made me very angry.”
After a rough patch, he started taking new drugs his doctor had prescribed him. He then became energized and started volunteering.
In 2003, he founded SMART Ride, a 165-mile, two-day bike ride from Miami to Key West which raises money to support seven HIV/AIDS service organizations in Florida.
“This was my way of saying I beat the odds and successfully survived where so many of my friends didn’t,” he said.
Now in its 11th run, which starts Friday and ends Saturday, SMART Ride has raised a total of $5.3 million since its inception. All of the funds go directly to the organizations, unlike the HIV/AIDS bike rides of the early 2000s, Weinzimer says.
“The money that was raised didn’t seem to go to the benefiting agencies,” he said. “I was angry at everyone because I believe as individuals we could make a difference with big companies and things where they had not succeeded.”
Pridelines Youth Services, located in Miami, is one of the seven beneficiaries. The funds help its five Positive Connections support groups: one for heterosexual men who are HIV-positive, one for newly infected individuals, one for gay and bisexual men, one for Spanish speakers, and one for women.
Victor Diaz-Herman, Pridelines’ executive director, is one of the volunteers assisting about 500 cyclists from 26 different states on their journey from Miami to Key West.
“The involvement of the volunteers is so precious and so appreciated because what they’re doing by being here is directly influencing the ability for the agencies to give services to people living with or at risk of contracting HIV – and that is just precious in itself,” Diaz-Herman said.
When Pridelines became a beneficiary last year, the motivation to participate was to fund its five HIV/AIDS programs that it had been providing. This year, Diaz-Herman found a new motivation: a young, HIV-positive teen who had been taking advantage of the organization’s programs.
“His parents thanked us for helping their son navigate through one of the most challenging points in his life, helping him understand what his HIV meant, and thanking us for giving them their son back,” Diaz-Herman said. “This year, I’m excited to be a part of the ride because I do it for him and I do it for his family.”
“The Power of One” is the bike ride’s new theme this year.
“Rosa Parks was one person who changed it for all of us. Anne Frank was one person who left a diary behind and told a story that would have been lost. By choosing to be here, by choosing to volunteer, by choosing to donate, you’re choosing to be a hero, and you’re choosing to be that power of one that can make change,” Weinzimer said.
Also new this year: a drone that will follow the cyclists on the Seven Mile Bridge.
“We’ve asked everyone to wear red capes so that when we speed [the video] up, it’ll represent an unraveling red ribbon. And that’s our symbol of breaking down AIDS,” Weinzimer said.
He hopes to beat last year’s record of $1 million in donations.
“It is my strong belief that we can meet and beat what we did last year,” he said, “with the same number of people because of the passion and the energy in our community and throughout the state.”