The tires are pumped and so are the riders. SMART Ride is ready to hold its annual bike ride from Miami to Key West.

This is the largest event in the U.S. where 100% of funds raised are distributed back to the HIV/AIDS community. The 165-mile trip may sound like a lot of hard work (and it is). But the hardest work has already been done by riders and organizers. The event requires months of not just training, but also fundraising by riders. It’s an experience that bonds all participants.

“When [riders] get together they renew each other’s energy,” SMART Ride Founder Glen Weinzimer told SFGN ahead of the ride. “There’s that sense of family that goes through that group. It goes through the new people who get involved. You can’t explain the feeling that you get at the event until you’ve been to the event.”

Now in its 19th year, the ride will pass the $14 million mark for funds raised. During pandemic they adjusted safety protocols. But pandemic also came with an unexpected advantage. “I think there was more enthusiasm the last two years when everybody knew everyone needed help. This is the first full year back, and as a community and as a country, people are exhausted.” Weinzimer says restoring the ride to the way it was has been a challenge. “It’s an interesting year.”

Important Event

Advancements in treatment and prevention, along with health crises like COVID and monkeypox, have pushed HIV/AIDS from the headlines. “If you don’t talk about AIDS then you don’t have a problem. It’s not on the forefront. It’s not in daily conversation in schools. It’s not in daily conversation in homes because it’s no longer the crisis that it was.”

But the need for funds persists. South Florida, and Florida in general, continues to be an epicenter of new infections. Weinzimer says SMART Ride keeps the community engaged.  “People are saying the word AIDS everywhere. If you don’t say the word, it doesn’t exist. If we don’t say the word cancer then we don’t have cancer.”

Unique Perspective

The SMART Ride is more than a fundraiser to Weinzimer. It’s a very personal legacy project he wants to continue until the HIV/AIDS crisis is over. Weinzimer is a longtime HIV survivor. While he beat the odds of surviving until current treatments became available, he has lost many loved ones along the way. Organizing the ride is a year-long job, one he does in addition to owning Bona Italia restaurant. After coordinating volunteers, booking sponsors, meeting with supporters and more, there’s a moment in the end that he looks forward to every year.

“It’s incredible. To be standing on the stage to watch that is intense. It’s a unique view that I get that not everybody else gets. To see all the crew come running in as they announce each one after another, they just come running out screaming and all the riders are showing them the love.”

On the difficult days, he says remembering how the ride has grown gets him through. “I think years ago there was one point where I wondered what difference we were really making. There are 750 people. What kind of impact is that? Then I remembered after the event that more than 10,000 people made donations.”

While the SMART Ride is this weekend, the organization and individual riders and teams are still collecting donations. For more information, go to TheSMARTRide.org.


BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS