By Ted Waddell
CALLICOON August 26, 2003 On Thursday, August 21, 61 amateur bicyclists passed through Sullivan County on their journey from Niagara Falls to Battery Park as part of the 1st Annual Empire State AIDS Ride (August 18-23).
The riders are biking 500 miles over six days to draw attention to the international AIDS epidemic.
Each volunteer participant raised at least $3,200.
According to event organizer Marty Rosen, 100 percent of the money will be donated to four beneficiaries: Doctors Without Borders, recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize (65 percent to fund research programs at 20 sites around the globe); AIDS Rochester (15 percent); African Services Committee (15 percent); and Health GAP (5 percent).
Quite a few riders are HIV-positive, have lost friends or partners to AIDS or have in some way been personally touched by HIV/AIDS, said Rosen.
Most Americans think the problem has gone away, but it hasnt, she added. Its burgeoning. . . . Its hitting Hispanic women and young gay men. Theres a huge spike in San Francisco and overseas.
This is the first grassroots effort in New York to raise money for international AIDS research, said Rosen. So far, weve raised about $250,000.
Christopher Gorman of West Orange, NJ was diagnosed HIV-positive in 1992. He recently got the news that his status is now at the full-blown stage of AIDS.
But that didnt stop him from riding over 500 miles on a bike to promote HIV/AIDS awareness in the Empire State.
People need a real wakeup call, he said. A lot of straight parents and gay people dont realize these new raves ecstasy and date rape drugs are spreading the virus. Thats how you get AIDS.
Stop and think about it, he said. Gay men are no longer the fastest-growing group of HIV infections. The free love of the 1960s is no longer free its deadly!
Gorman called Poley Hill and Gun Hill Road some pretty serious hills to climb on the way to a lunch stop above Callicoon and then on to Barryville for a nights rest.
As a personal journey, I may have AIDS, but Im alive, and Im going to stay alive as long as I can, he said. I will continue to fight . . . and so far, Ive made every inch of every mile.
I want to show that a person with AIDS can do this, said Gorman. The ride is pretty intense, but its a statement.
Thirty-eight-year-old Steve Taylor of New York City is HIV-positive.
In the 1980s, he studied theatre in college, and today he mourns the loss of a lot of friends to AIDS.
We have access to incredible drugs in this country that arent available in the rest of the world, said Taylor. These drugs cost about $1,000 a month, and for most people around the world, thats incomprehensible. . . . We have to find ways of getting the drugs to people who are dying by the thousands every day.
Five years ago, Taylor started out on his first AIDS awareness bike ride, the Boston-New York City AIDS Ride. The 2003 Empire State AIDS Ride is his fifth such endeavor.
So much of my peer group has been lost, lamented Taylor. Their creativity has been lost to all of humanity thats why I ride.
#Max Morel was along for the ride as the official representative of Doctors Without Borders. He just got back to the states from a five-month stint in Angola, where we were doing a lot of work.
There are six million people in the developing world with HIV/AIDS, he said. Only 300,000 are getting treatment . . . and millions are dying without drugs and hope.
Eric Thomann, 52, of Brooklyn showed up on his trusty 32-year-old Raleigh 3-speed. In 1971, he bought it brand new for $85 and has been riding it around the world in stages.
So far, hes got more than 30,000 miles under the wheels as part of my lifetime quest to circle the globe by the time Im 70.
Its his daily commuter in the city.
Im on this ride because I lost two college professors to AIDS over 20 years ago, said Thomann. Having lost them, I felt there was a part of my life was missing. . . . They were people who contributed to my education with enthusiasm, grace and a lot of style.
He likened the deadly virus to something out of a Stephen King horror story.
It keeps morphing, said Thomann. As soon as we find a vaccine, it changes shape and composition its like the Black Plague. Its ridiculous that people are left to die when we have medications that could help them.
Its a virus that we are fighting by riding bikes, he added.