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Bicyclists Prepare for Braking the Cycle from Boston to NYC

by Jason Prokowiew
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Saturday Sep 10, 2011

More than 120 riders are preparing to embark on a three-day, 285-mile bike ride from Boston to New York on Sept. 16-18, to raise money for New York City's LGBT Community Center's HIV/AIDS services.

Since the Center opened in 1983, tens of thousands of New Yorkers with HIV or AIDS have benefited from organization's services through its Center CARE program. The Center provides more than 1,800 counseling and group sessions to people living with the virus each year. And the organization's HIV/AIDS prevention activities draw more than 1,000 youth annually.

Braking the Cycle is one piece of the puzzle in how the Center provides all its services. Glennda Testone, executive director of the Center, told EDGE that Braking the Cycle comprises roughly $360,000 of her organization's $7.5 million annual budget.

"The financial support it provides is critical," said Testone. "It provides us with our biggest net revenue to our budget."

Braking the Cycle launched in 2003 after Pallotta Teamworks, the company that had done similar rides for the Center went out of business.

Eric Epstein, president of Global Impact Productions, an event production company that produces outdoor activity fundraising for nonprofits, had a long relationship with the Center that reached back to the 1980's when he was a member of ACT UP. Epstein had also organized similar rides when Pallotta's shutdown threatened the Center, but this actually gave his company an opportunity to launch its first event.

"We came to the Center with the idea of Braking the Cycle, and to do a ride that had the kind of level of support the old rides had but in a way that was more grassroots, more connected to the mission of the center and their work," said Epstein.

Forty-seven people participated in the 2003 ride, but this number has nearly tripled in recent years.

"It has evolved also in the sense that the ride started as group of people who came together with a common purpose but who didn't necessarily know each other," said Epstein. "That was the beginning of forming a community, and consistently two thirds of the riders signed up again. We've become a family that has a reunion once a year. Even though we've gotten bigger, we've also gotten tighter, and we keep welcoming new members to the family."

Three members of that family -- Rick Webber, Thom Kam and Clay Williams -- have ridden in Braking the Cycle for eight, six and three years respectively. The three ride with the Positive Pedalers (PosPeds), a group of people living with HIV/AIDS that aims to eliminate stigma "through our positive public example."

For Kam, the opportunity to give back to the Center is a reflection of what the organization has done for him. He credits the Center for being a place he could turn when he got sick several years ago.

"I go through the year without thinking about my HIV status a whole lot," said Kam. "By doing this fundraising event, it all comes into focus again for me. It's a celebration of surviving AIDS."

Each rider is responsible for raising a minimum of $3,500, and Williams hopes to raise $10,000. Williams and other PosPeds riders will ride with an orange flag attached to their bike, symbolizing that they can live and thrive with HIV.

"A lot of times, when I see a rider without a flag, and I am able to pass them, it is empowering," said Webber.

Testone, who rode in her first Braking the Cycle ride last year, credits Williams with inspiring her to crest a particularly steep hill in Connecticut. "I felt like it was a straight up and down, and I was struggling, and he was there just cheering me on. After I inched past him, it gave me the strength to go on." Testone said. "I always say the ride is a metaphor for life, and an example of how we all have struggles, but we can inspire each other."

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