Glen Weinzimer stopped pedaling next to mile marker 18 on the road back from Key West in 2003 — he saw something on the road.
He got off his bicycle and adjusted his eyes under the sun.
It was a giant message written in chalk on the road: “Thank you, Glen.”
That was when it hit him. His SMART Ride (or the Southern Most AIDS/HIV Ride Twenty-Twelve), the 165-mile bicycle trek to Key West to promote money and awareness of HIV/AIDS, was actually bringing change, was actually making people feel something.
The SMART Ride’s top 5 teams
These teams of riders have raised the most money collectively for the 165-mile bicycle trek to Key West and back — all proceeds go to charity
The SMART Ride’s top 10 riders
These fundraisers have raised the most money individually for the 165-mile bicycle trek to Key West and back — all proceeds go to charity
1. Timothy Haymon $20,775
“I wasn’t doing it for them, but I realized then why we were doing this. People were touched by this,” Weinzimer told SFGN, choking on his words. “They walked away changed. When I saw that note, it was an ‘Oh my God’ moment.”
He’ll be taking off toward the South for the ninth time on Friday, Nov. 16, along with 700 other people.
Weinzimer founded SMART Ride back in 2003 to give back. Having worked for HIV agencies, Weinzimer — who’s been positive since 1993 — saw how fundraising events could go awry, no one really benefitting from them. This was his way of ensuring that the agencies in charge of helping those affected by the virus got the funding they needed to operate.
“Going in and making photocopies wasn’t doing it for me,” Weinzimer said. “That was my motivation.”
Today, SMART Ride is the second largest cycling event of its kind in the country, first place going to the AIDS Life Cycle in California. It is, however, the only cycling event of its size to give 100 percent of its proceeds away.
How much, exactly? Well, a ticker at the top of the event’s website (www.thesmartride.org) kept count until early November, when it was taken down to eschew mystery until the unveiling of the final number in Key West over the weekend. It last showed over $600,000, according to Kris Fegenbush, who’s part of the Pride Pack, one of many teams who’ll be riding down to Key West.
“This ride gives me the motivation to keep up my work year-round,” said Fegenbush, who’ll be embarking on his third SMART Ride. “The year before I first rode, my partner rode. I went down to Key West to meet him. It was in January — it was cold and rainy. One of the riders couldn’t have a normal bicycle and had to use his arms to go. Watching that guy come in through the wind and the rain, I realized that I had no excuse not to do it.”
Now, Fegenbush said he knows he’ll always be part of the Ride, that it’s part of his life now.
Weinzimer expects the funds this year to exceed $800,000 (they’re sitting comfortably at about $3.3 million since the event’s inception), and said the event is well on its way to accomplish this feat. The beneficiaries of the money this year will be strewn all across the state:
- Children’s Diagnostic and Treatment Center
- Pride Center at Equality Park
- Metro Wellness and Community Centers
- Center for Positive Connections
- AIDS Help
- Miracle of Love
- Comprehensive AIDS Program of Palm Beach County
This year, a new element makes its way into the fund allocation, called the 10 percent Lifeline. Essentially, SMART Ride will keep a portion of the funds to allocate throughout the year to agencies that may be in need of quick cash infusions.
“From the very start when I created the event, the goal wasn’t just to help the largest agencies, but also the smaller ones,” Weinzimer said, and added that places like the Poverello Center will now be able to appeal for something like $10,000 to run an event, anytime through the year.
For more information, go to www.thesmartride.org.
An Appeal to Decency
One SMART Rider’s letter to potential donators
This letter is a long time overdue. The truth is, I've written it many times over, but my emotions got the best of me and I was never able to finish it.
Every now and then I still look back at the Facebook post I made on June 23, 2011. What I expected to be just another typical 'meaningless overshare' became a marker for the day my life changed: the day I tested HIV positive.
I had just tested HIV- three weeks prior, and I was 100% certain that there was no way today's test result would be any different. A clinical intern who sat in on my HIV test shared that she had been volunteering at the Pride Center longer than expected; she had to keep volunteering until she had one HIV+ test result. The moment she said that, somehow, I just knew it was going to be me. That feeling is the last thing I can recall from my visit to the center that day. Apparently, memory loss is not uncommon in traumatic events.
The universe has a unique way of bringing people and institutions in our lives at just the right time. I had just accepted a position on the Board of Directors at the Pride Center, and I had begun to develop a personal friendship with Kristofer Fegenbush, the Center's Deputy Director. Having nowhere else to turn to, and faced with a crisis that was larger than life itself, I reached out to Kris for help.
Without a moment's hesitation, Kris Fegenbush cleared his calendar for the day and came to my house where I sat in tears with my HIV- boyfriend. Through some miracle of God, Kris was able to convince both my partner and I that we were going to be okay. I learned that day I didn't have to die of AIDS and I could have a loving, healthy relationship with my HIV- partner. Somehow, in the midst of the mess, he even convinced me that I would turn this tragic news into a positive force in my life.
Armed with hope that I could survive HIV and make a difference, I signed up to participate in my first SMART Ride as a member of the Pride Center's "Pride Pack." While our team wasn't big, the effect they had on my life was huge. Life was such an emotional rollercoaster last year... There were some days that the only thing that got me out of bed in the morning was training rides with my fellow Pack-mates. By the time SMART Ride 8 was over, thanks to close adherence the very expensive antiretroviral therapy, my HIV viral load had gone “undetectable” and I achieved a T-cell level typical for an HIV- individual.
I thought I had my life entirely under control. Then, about a year after my relationship began, my partner and I decided it was in our best interest to go separate ways. I was forced to deal with a new reality: being single, gay, 30, and HIV+. Once again, I turned to the Pride Center. It was suggested that I enroll in the L.I.F.E. program, a 17 week program that helps men arms HIV+ men with information and skills necessary to live long, healthy lives. While I think every one of the 45 men in my L.I.F.E. cycle had a different reason for enrolling, the end result was the same: a new outlook on life.
It isn't until the day you test positive for HIV that you realize just how essential organizations like the Pride Center are to our community. Free HIV testing, FREE condom distribution, HIV education & counseling, and so much more are absolutely essential in Broward County, where our rates of HIV infection are some of the highest in the nation amongst gays, straights, men, women, white, black, and Latino!
The Pride Center is a beneficiary organization of this year's SMART Ride. While riding 165 miles from Miami to Key West again this year won't be easy: it must be done. I must ride... because HIV is very real in our community, and HIV is very real within me.
Fighting HIV is often an uphill battle, and it can only be done if our whole community gets involved.