Max Kirkeberg participated in his first AIDS Walk San Francisco in 1988, in the midst of the darkest days of HIV/AIDS epidemic. He’d already been living in San Francisco for nearly 20 years at the time. But suddenly he was witnessing our community in crisis and he knew he had to do something.
“In the early years of the AIDS Walk, most of the walkers were gay men and most of them were infected with HIV,” said Max. “When the crisis hit, I expected to become infected. For reasons I can’t explain, I did not. But almost everyone I knew at the time became infected and many of them died.”
After walking for eight years on his own, Max decided it was time organize a group of people to walk and fundraise with him. As a devout member of his church, St. Francis Lutheran in San Francisco, he gathered his fellow parishioners to form a team in 1996. That year would prove to be pivotal in Max’s life.
“Just a few days after the walk in 1996, my partner died,” said Max. “Our church has been participating ever since, to remember all the people we’ve lost to HIV/AIDS.”
Max didn’t stop there. As a professor in the geography department at San Francisco State University, he also got his co-workers to join his team. To date, Max’s teams have raised more than $600,000 in the fight against HIV/AIDS. He says bringing together different groups of people—church members and colleagues—is what AIDS Walk San Francisco is all about.
“It’s just such a San Francisco thing to do,” said Max. “I love that the walk attracts all kinds of people and corporations doing their part to fight HIV/AIDS. It’s important because we need to stop the disease. People are still getting infected. Yes, people are now living with the disease, but it’s still a serious health issue. My current partner has been HIV positive for 20 years, and staying healthy remains a challenge for him.”
Max is now 79 years old. This will be his last year leading the joint team. Next year his friend, Grant Burger, will take over leading the church team. He knows he has big shoes to fill.
“Max is the inspiration behind why we walk,” said Grant. “He’s the one who put us into motion. He got us organized and we’ve raised a ton of money over the years.”
“People should do the AIDS Walk because we need the money to fight HIV/AIDS,” said Max. “It’s a good thing to do for your community. Sometimes I think the people who are doing the walking and the fundraising are the biggest winners in all this because it’s so rewarding to support vital HIV/AIDS services in the Bay Area.”
“The AIDS Walk is important because we need to remember all the people we’ve lost,” said Grant. “We need to keep fighting HIV/AIDS—there are still new infections. We need to understand the progression of the disease and the chronic effects that people like me, who’ve been living with HIV for many years, will face as we get older. And we need a vaccine. We still have a lot to do.”
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