The ride must go on.

Rescheduled due to an active hurricane season, the SMART Ride rolls out from the University of Miami this weekend.

“Not doing the ride was not an option,” said SMART Ride Founder Glen Weinzimer. “The agencies really need the money.”

On Friday, Jan. 19 more than 400 riders will pedal the 165-mile route to Key West to raise funding for HIV/AIDS service organizations. This is the 14th edition of the ride, which traditionally takes place in November. The effects of hurricanes Irma and Maria forced the event to move its dates and created more needs to be met.

The theme of SMART Ride 14 was originally designated “If Not Now When?”

“But that quickly became: ‘Are they going to do the ride?,’” Weinzimer said as the storms battered South Florida.

Instead of donating to the SMART Ride, people were faced with dilemmas such as finding work, paying bills and keeping food in the refrigerator. Previous rides raised over a $1 million, but Weinzimer said this year would be lucky to break $800,000.

One hundred percent of the money raised is given to HIV/AIDS service organizations. Last year seven agencies from Tampa to Key West split $1 million. This year more than 700 people will participate, Weinzimer said. The event begins Thursday at 5:30 p.m. with an opening ceremony and candlelight vigil at the University of Miami’s Lakeside Patio stage in Coral Gables.

The SMART Ride stands for southern most AIDS/HIV ride. The “T” stands for the year, Weinzimer said. The ride started in 2004.. There are several cycling events across America that raise money for HIV/AIDS. Only one goes to Key West, the southernmost tip of the continental United States.

“The Keys really need us,” Weinzimer said. “Us not coming is not good for their economy.”

Many parts of the island chain are still picking up the pieces from hurricane season. Several of the mile marker areas where rest stops were previously designated have been completely wiped out, said Weinzimer. Bike techs are bringing extra tubing this weekend to prepare for potential blowouts from leftover debris.

Meanwhile, the memories of loved ones lost and/or living with the virus is what keeps the ride going. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates 1.1 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. Florida ranked second to California in the number of diagnosis of HIV infection (4,957) in 2016.

The SMART Ride’s association with the University of Miami – home to the Miller School of Medicine’s Miami Center for AIDS Research – is an effective way to reach a high risk group. Americans ages 20 to 24 had the second highest number of HIV infection cases in 2016, reports the CDC.

“There is this mindset that if you don’t say it then it doesn’t exist,” Weinzimer said. “We hope by being on campus we can spark a conversion that leads to better awareness and understanding.”

Saturday’s schedule begins with lunch at Key West High School at 10 a.m. Parade lineup starts at 2 p.m. with closing ceremonies on tap for 3:15 p.m. from White Street Pier. Holiday Inn Marathon is the ride’s host hotel.

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