Allies in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS

Boas and bicycles? Why not? The AIDS Bicycle Cruise encourages creative costumes as part of the fun for its benefit bicycle ride on Sunday, Sept. 15.

Teresa Jarzemkoski and Mark Thomas are a couple in life and when they ride. They are AIDS Bicycle Cruise veterans of six years, and they’re co-chairing the ABC this year, along with fellow co-chairs Karen Heath, Jeanne Barnhill and Theresa Van Ackeren.

We met on a Friday evening at the Amigoni Urban Winery’s Tasting Room, where a group of bicyclists — including many who will ride in ABC — meet weekly for a ride and then a glass or two of wine afterward.

ABC cyclists can choose to ride either five or 20 miles. On the 20-mile ride, participants will pedal past the locations of the four beneficiaries of AIDS Walk: SAVE Inc., Good Samaritan Project, KC Care Clinic and the Hope Care Center.

There will be bands, food and adult beverages, and water, at stops along the way for anyone wishing to imbibe.
Jarzemkoski and Thomas said much of their idea for the “party on wheels” theme was based on the AIDS Walk Open golf tourney pub crawl.

“It’s a lot of fun. And we thought, why can’t we get this many people to do the bike ride?” said Jarzemkoski. “I mean, we don’t play golf!” she said with a laugh.

The AIDS Bicycle Cruise was not always called a party on wheels. In years past, there have been more competitive long-distance rides of up to 60 miles for the serious riders, back when it was called the AIDS Bicycle Challenge. But Jarzemkoski and Thomas acknowledge that the main goal of the ride is to get as many people as possible to participate, have fun, and raise money for the cause.

That’s one of the main reasons they created the shorter route of five miles this year for novice bicycle riders or those who may not have been riding a bike for a few years. Thomas said that people can also rent bicycles through the Kansas City B-cycle program (, which is perfect for the shorter ride.

“Ride as slow as you want, and back to the party,” Jarzemkoski said with a laugh.

This year, the ride falls on the same weekend as the BikeMS bicycle ride, which is Sept. 14-15. That’s OK, Thomas said — there are many different rides in the area for the many different cyclists.

ABC has a different theme from other rides, Thomas and Jarzemkoski said, and because the BikeMS starts the day before ABC, some riders have told them they will do both.

“They’re going to do the MS ride on Saturday, and instead of staying the night in Lawrence, come home and do our ride the next day,” Jarzemkoski said.

Several of the riders bring their children to ride with them. “We’re sort of borderline family-friendly on this ride,” Thomas said with a laugh.

ABC is an all-volunteer-run organization, which allows the event to give more back to the AIDS Service Foundation. Last year, the ride raised more than $35,000.

“We’ve got some great incentives. We’ve got the jerseys,” said Thomas, pointing to the colorful ABC jerseys they were wearing. Riders who raise $100 receive a T-shirt, $250 receive the jersey, $500 receive an exclusive dining experience, and the top rider raising more than $2,000 will receive a Breezer bicycle.

The ride begins and ends in Westport. Registration after Sept. 1 is $35. It’s not too late to register now and start raising money online through your ABC rider page. Riders can also register the day of the event. Registration is at 11 a.m., and the ride begins at noon.

“You know, one other thing is that you can buy a ticket to the after-party for $20,” said Thomas.

“The Millennial League will run the after-party, and they did a terrific job last year,” Jarzemkoski said.

“They’ve committed to selling 100 tickets to the after-party,” Thomas said.

Thomas and Jarzemkoski are avid bicycle riders, but they both had health scares this year. Thomas was hospitalized when a staph infection invaded his lower spine, requiring weeks of recovery. He praised the way the other co-chairs worked with them during their difficult time.

“They delayed a lot of meetings while I was flat on my back,” said Thomas.

“I was in the hospital for three days — not nearly as long as he was,” said Jarzemkoski.

“It actually gives us more empathy for people who have to deal with sickness, medical bills, insurance,” Thomas said. “We tested our insurance policy well this year.”

Neither of them stayed away from their bicycles for long. They were both up and riding as soon as possible.

“I’ve been doing it competitively since the early ’80s,” Thomas said. “I owned a bicycle store.”

Many of his races are in Belgium, a country they enjoy visiting. “We love the whole package of the culture,” Thomas said.

“Everybody rides a bike,” Jarzemkoski added. When they are in Belgium, they travel by bicycle and train, not even renting a car.

The two met in 1997. “That was my first year of bicycling,” said Jarzemkoski. “I showed up at the ride that he was doing, and he rode with the slower group I was in that night because he had injured himself in a crash.”

They live in the Kansas City area with their two daughters. Jarzemkoski works as a programmer for the BlueScope Foundation in the West Bottoms area, and Thomas is a freelance writer and organizer of other bicycle rides besides ABC.

They invite anyone wishing to join them on their weekly Friday night bike rides to show up at the Amigoni Urban Winery’s Tasting Room, 1505 Genessee St. in the West Bottoms at 5:30 p.m. Routes vary by week. The night we met there, more than 20 people showed up for the ride.

I commented that ABC is lucky to have the two of them.

“We’re glad to have ABC. They’ll have to kick us off,” said Thomas with a laugh.

For more information about ABC and to register, visit AIDS Bicycle Cruise

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