Riding to express my gratitude

Last month, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in AIDS/LifeCycle, the 545-mile cycling event benefitting San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the HIV-related services of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. As I was cycling down the coast of California—from San Francisco to Los Angeles—I had plenty of time to reflect on the reasons why I was riding this year.

I realized that I was riding to express my gratitude.

First, I wanted to express my gratitude to the other AIDS/LifeCycle participants. More than 2,800 Riders and Roadies gave their time, money and hearts to the community for an incredible week that raises awareness and vital funding for HIV prevention and care services. Our organization could not continue its work without the AIDS/LifeCycle community.

I also wanted to express thanks to the HIV community—those that are living with and at risk for HIV and those who work tirelessly to end the epidemic. When I was 16 years old, and struggling to come out as gay in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, I found support from an LGBT youth drop-in center that received HIV prevention funding. The community I met there gave me a voice and set me on a trajectory that has defined my career. I express my gratitude for all that you have given me by providing others those same opportunities.

Lastly, I wanted to ride to honor to long-term survivors. I didn’t live through the darkest days of the epidemic. I didn’t lose my friends in the way that many of you here lost your friends. What you did in those moments, in your greatest despair, was fight. You got out on the streets and you fought like hell. You are the reason the government responded with pharmaceutical options and programs that ebb the encroaching tide. I am here today as a man who benefited from your work. Every day, I come to work at San Francisco AIDS Foundation with your fight in my mind and in my heart, and I am filled with gratitude.

Pedaling 545 miles provides a lot of time to listen and reflect on what is in our hearts. For seven days last month, what I heard and realized was how much you all inspire my determination to build and strengthen our community.

With gratitude,

Joe Hollendoner, MSW

Chief Executive Officer

San Francisco AIDS Foundation  

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