Heroes in the Fight: Meet Lisa

Lisa Anne Porter is an actress, voice-over artist, dialect and voice instructor for the American Conservatory Theater, and voice and Shakespeare teacher at the University of California at Davis—and she still found time to train for AIDS/LifeCycle, the 545-mile, seven-day ride supporting San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. “It was truly the only time I had off!” she laughs. “Between classes, I was popping down to the Y and jumping on the stationary bikes.”

Lisa’s determination to ride and raise awareness and funds for HIV/AIDS care and services comes from a very personal place: In 1988, her father died after a two-year battle with AIDS. “During that time, he lost his lover and many of his friends, men who helped to raise me,” she recalls. Lisa was drawn to participate in her first AIDS/LifeCycle eight years ago. “I really wanted the ritual of honoring my dad,” she says. “And with the ride, I thought, ‘For a week, I’m just going to grieve. I’m going be with other people who have experienced what I experienced, and I’m going to push myself.'”

But what started as a daughter’s personal journey became something far larger. First, nearly a dozen of Lisa’s Syracuse University students signed up to ride alongside her. “Suddenly, I was a teacher leading eleven students who were viewing it as a sporting event, and I knew that they were about to encounter some things that were entirely new to them,” she says. And her reasons for riding evolved as she pedaled side-by-side with others who had lost loved ones to AIDS. “I want to make it possible so that another family gets another day with their loved one,” Lisa explains, her voice catching. “When my dad got sick, there was no time. AZT was just coming out, and people were dying so fast. I’m raising money so that somebody else gets another day with their dad.”

This past June, Lisa was joined on her second AIDS/LifeCycle by her younger sister, Hallie. “I wanted to honor my dad, with my sister, but I also wanted to remind myself of what’s really important. It’s about people, and it’s about service. It’s about taking care of one another.” When Lisa and Hallie took the stage at sunrise on opening day, thousands of riders, roadies, and volunteers held their breath, listening to the story of why they ride. “That was the moment, the biggest and most overwhelming moment for me,” Lisa remembers. “I was speaking to nearly 3,000 people, but it felt like I was speaking to each one individually, because I realized so many people in the room understood.

Lisa calls that her moment of catharsis; afterward, the rest of this year’s ride felt like a kind of meditation. “This time, my feelings didn’t take me by surprise. I realized that the grief has become something I accept and live with now,” she muses. “And there’s something about being with that many other people who carry the same grief that lessens it.” Having spoken at the opening ceremony, Lisa was recognized frequently by fellow riders; many approached her to say thanks for sharing her story, and to share experiences and losses of their own. “There was something really lovely about those little moments with people as the ride went on.”

Riding with her sister made for a different ALC experience, as well: “Sometimes it felt like we were little kids again, speeding along, racing each other.” And teasing one another, too; Hallie found a unique way to celebrate her sister’s birthday on day 5 of the ride. “For the entire morning, every time we came to a stoplight my sister would say, ‘Oh my god, Lisa, it’s your birthday! We should all sing “Happy Birthday” to you!’ And all the riders who were stopped at the light would sing.” After fifteen serenades at fifteen stoplights, “I was ready to lose her!”

What would she say to someone who is thinking about signing up for ALC 2014? “Do it!” she enthuses. “Enjoy every minute. Even the hardest moment on a hill, find the pleasure in it and be present for every minute of it.”

Lisa pauses, considering her advice for new riders. “It’s not about getting to L.A.,” she continues. “It’s about all the little moments along the way. Those hills take every ounce of your body, your focus, your heart, and your passion. Enjoy being that present and that alive, and let that inform the rest of your life. See what it’s like to just be present in doing that one thing—and see what happens!”

Want to say “thanks” to Lisa and the other AIDS/LifeCycle riders, roadies, volunteers, and staff whose dedication helps fund our free services? Drop them a few words of encouragement in the comments below. Inspired to register for AIDS/LifeCycle 2014? Sign up online today!

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