HIV-Positive Olympian to Join AIDS Activists in LA Marathon
Australian Olympic trampolinist Ji Wallace, who recently announced he is HIV-positive, will join the AIDS fundraising team running in the Honda LA Marathon this March.
For the fifteenth year, AIDS Project Los Angeles, one of the nation's largest HIV/AIDS service organizations, will send a team to the LA Marathon to raise big funds to support its programs. This is the first time that a big-name athlete will join the Team to End AIDS, also known as T2.
"This is pretty exciting for us," said APLA Director of Endurance Events Kerry Quakenbush. "We look forward to welcoming him."
Last summer during the London games, Wallace became the third Olympian in history to make public his HIV status.
"When Chris Richey from the Stigma Project asked if I was interested in joining T2, I jumped at the chance. Like becoming a parent, you don't know what having HIV is like until it happens to you," said Wallace, who won a silver medal in the 2000 Sydney games.
He said the power of strangers and support systems has motivated him to participate.
"The generosity of strangers can go a long way, in fact it can take you to an Olympic medal dais," he said. "I might not be on the same continent as the U.S., but I can let every single HIV-positive person they have a friend in me."
Last year, T2 was the largest charity participating in the marathon and raised more than $325,000. This year's team is smaller, but its 125 members have already raised about $100,000.
"All of the money we raise goes to services that APLA provides to the community," Quakenbush said.
APLA’s food pantry, dental services and housing assistance program are just some of the services the agency provides for low-income people living with HIV/AIDS throughout Los Angeles County, most of whom live on less than $10,000 a year. Each fall, the APLA puts on AIDS Walk Los Angeles, which raised $2.9 million last year.
The LA Marathon is just one of several athletic events APLA participates in, part of its year-round Endurance Training Program. Dozens of participants, ranging in experience, train each week and raise funds for events around the country and abroad.
"We do about four to five events a year in the LA chapter, and we generally raise between $1 million and $1.5 million a year," Quakenbush said.
In addition to the LA Marathon, this year, T2 is doing the Tinker Bell Half Marathon in Anaheim, the Nautica Malibu Triathlon and plans to hopefully run in the Xterra Trail Run in Hawaii.
Quakenbush said it isn’t too late to sign up to run with T2 in the LA Marathon on March 17.
"If anyone wants to sign up, we can get them a slot in the race." Registration for summer events opens Feb. 1.
APLA Communications Specialist Kristen Hellwig ran with T2 for the first time last month at the Xterra Trail Run.
"I’ve written about the program a lot, but after going through it myself, it truly is life-changing. I wasn’t an athlete at all before I did T2 and I never dreamed I would do something like that," she said.
"Knowing I could raise that much money, knowing how much it affects our clients’ lives and being able to help financially, it feels really good. It’s such a good group of participants and it’s totally changed them," she told EDGE.
For Wallace, the marathon presents another challenge, as it is the complete opposite of his sport.
"It is hours long and the total flip side of my trampoline event, so it has been a personal dream of mine to complete one," he said. "I am doing as much as I can as an HIV citizen to show that HIV does not stop me, and in every difficult situation you face in your life, if you look a little harder you too can find a silver lining."