AIDS Ride Ends, Challenges Continue For Victims

Riders finished a grueling four-day bike ride to focus community attention on AIDS, but event supporters said the challenge goes on for victims of the disease.

The ninth annual AIDS Ride started and ended in Madison, and took about 90 riders on a 300-mile journey around south central Wisconsin.

The event raised money for the AIDS Network, which provides services to HIV-positive people in the area. There are currently an estimated 1,000 HIV-positive people living just in Dane County.

Bikers and community supporters raised more than $200,000 this year, organizers said.

“The support of the community, the support of individuals who’ve been touched in some form or fashion with HIV, those are the people who’ve come together,” said Karen Dotson, executive director of the AIDS Network. “They’ve made a stance and said, ‘Hey, we know there’s a need out there, and we want to do something about it.'”

One of the riders was Joel Duffrin, of Madison. Once he finished, he cheered on other riders as they crossed the finish line.

“I’ve been positive for 14 years,” Duffrin said. “When I first moved to this city, I needed the network and I needed their services to survive myself. And now after 10 years of living here, it’s my time to give back, and that’s why I’m here.”

Duffrin said the medical community has made advancements in caring for HIV-positive people and, these days, they don’t look sick. That makes the event more important, because it focuses public attention on the disease, he said.

“The strength comes from within, in your heart,” Duffrin said about fighting the disease. “When you’re added to all these amazing people (at the event), the strength just builds and builds.”

The event ended with a ceremony on Martin Luther King Blvd., just off the Capitol Square. It featured a riderless bike, called “Rider Zero,” which honors the lives AIDS has taken.

Organizers said the 90 riders and money raised was smaller than in previous years. The economy was a factor, Dotson said.

“In years past, we’ve had over 100,” she said. “But this year, we really believe because of the economy and some of the challenges, we’re just short of 100.”

For more information on the AIDS Ride or to donate to the AIDS Network, go to this web site.