Ride of your life

This year's AIDS/LifeCycle, the world's largest annual HIV/AIDS fundraising event, will have a local connection.

Four Nashville residents---Ben Stix, Nick Davis, Bradley Pinson and Kristin Keiper---are devoting the first half of 2011 to preparations for the 7-day bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

The event, co-produced by the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and scheduled for June 5-11, is designed to advance their shared interest to end the pandemic and human suffering caused by AIDS.

Riders travel 545 miles through California’s most beautiful countryside over seven days. The lengthy excursion draws attention to the event's twin goals: to increase awareness and knowledge about the services and programs offered by the benefiting organizations, and to increase awareness and knowledge about HIV/AIDS.

More than 2,400 participants were involved in last year's AIDS/LifeCycle: 1,925 cyclists and 500 volunteer “roadies,” ranging in age form 18 to 82 and hailing from nearly every state and eight countries. Since its inception in 2002, AIDS/LifeCycle has raised $70 million to support HIV/AIDS services.

Gabriel Stix, a physician from Maryland, is a three-year veteran of the event, and sons Ben and Gabe joined him in the journey last year. Wife Helen and daughter Katie acted as roadies, turning LifeCycle into a family affair for the Stix clan. Their fundraising efforts raised over $9,000 for the San Francisco AIDS foundation last year.

Ben, a server at Wild Cow Restaurant in East Nashville, first became involved as a way to further strengthen his relationship with his father. Heartened by the triumphant spirit of his fellow travelers, his perspective shifted.

"Last year my main motive to ride was to accomplish this feat with my father," Stix remembers. "We'd spend a week in California on a bike with the beautiful scenery, and then as an added bonus, I get to do something really good for people who need help. This year, after I realized how much good the ride did, I am doing it for the cause, and to be part of that community again."

Even the most physically fit participants, slogging through the long and arduous climb, can get worn out by their exertions. To boost their spirits, speakers at each campsite offer encouragement and entertainment. This camaraderie among volunteers can be a vital source of inspiration.

"Everyone there turns into a family, and it actually gives me a little more faith in humanity," Stix says. "While on the ride I feel like we were in this bubble of greatness and strength that isn't part of the rest of the world."

Stix's enthusiasm for the event prompted friend and fellow employee, Nick Davis, to sign up for the 2011 edition. Davis, who only began biking last year, has embarked on a regimented training program built to produce maximum results.

He admits that the process, equal parts physical trial and charity appeal, require toughness and resolve. Out of that commitment springs an appreciation for life's simple pleasures.

"This is the perfect way to experience California, by riding along the coast on a bike in great weather," he says. "I've always had an affinity for San Francisco. My aunt lives there and I've been out to California a few times.

During last year's ride, it's estimated that more than 1,000 people in the United States and 50,000 people around the world were infected with HIV. These numbers demonstrate that, despite education and prevention programs throughout the United States, the disease remains a major issue.

"I think people write off HIV so easily," Davis explains. "Random people have come up to me and say 'Oh, there's a cure for the disease somewhere,' but there are so many that are suffering and who don't have the resources to treat their symptoms. We have to continue to fight until we have a cure."

Both Stix and Davis have a personal blog on the website that contains a status bar and updates on their progress. The minimum donation for each rider is $3,000, and both have begun the fundraising process by visiting businesses around Nashville. To donate, access their individual pages at www.tofighthiv.org.

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