Jock Talk: A tale from the AIDS/LifeCycle
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I'm not usually a betting man, but I'll wager you this: My doctor is way cooler than your doctor.
Dr. Hussain Gilani, 34, has been the nephrologist overseeing my dialysis regimen for the last three years. He's always upbeat no matter how much of a downer my health issues are at times; his April wedding to Adele White was a fabulous affair, with traditional and colorful Pakistani outfits and was covered in a big New York Times feature written by Emeryville's Louise Rafkin; and he once participated in a 299-mile bike race in blazing Texas heat, all while going without food or water because he was fasting during Ramadan.
But that's not why he's cool.
He's cool because he was one of the 2,800 riders who participated this month in the seven-day, 545-mile AIDS/LifeCycle to raise money for the HIV/AIDS-related work of the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
"Since moving to the Bay Area, I have been wanting to do this ride," Gilani, 34, said. "I've had many patients throughout the years afflicted with HIV, and I have even worked in countries heavily affected by HIV (I've traveled to Haiti three times). But I never really connected with how devastating HIV and AIDS were to the local community until a conversation I had with my property manager in my first apartment in San Francisco about four years ago. He sat me down and told me the horrors of being gay in the 1980s and 1990s – everyone basically dying, and because they are gay, no one really cared. It's a reality I have trouble comprehending, and very much so sympathize with. Prior to my ride, one of my conversations with you reminded me of that. It's very humbling thinking what the homosexual community that lived through the worst of HIV/AIDS had to go through and to see how it has shaped who they are today. I am so impressed by the advocacy that stems out of that."
This was by far the longest trip he has ever ridden.
"I had started bicycling in medical school, but stopped riding so much last January when I tore my ACL. About a year ago this month was the first time I picked up my bicycle since tearing my knee. I rode roughly three miles that day and I was so proud of myself, but setting this trip was a lofty goal that I knew would help force me to recover."
Gilani said he started training more frequently in the fall but had trouble devoting himself to it then because of wet weather and wedding plans.
"After my wedding, I just started riding every day after work and increasing my mileage until two weeks before, I rode from my home to the top of Mount Diablo and back (93 miles and 8,500 feet of elevation)," he said. "After that, I didn't really touch my bicycle until the ride, but I knew I was ready."
His impressions of the ride?
"In my head, it's the safest way to do a long bicycle ride along some of the most beautiful land in California," he said. "I honestly believe that every day I was on the ride was better than the day before, and the first day was amazing! Even though the second day was very difficult, and grueling (109 miles, and the temperature hit 97 degrees), I was having a blast. And the next day it was challenging and beautiful, and so on and so forth. Every day provided an experience that made me reflect on how lucky I was to experience what I was experiencing, and to help me think of ways to pay this forward."
The people he met and the stories they told were as beautiful and moving as the dazzling coastal landscape he navigated.
"It was incredible," Gilani said. "There were so many brave people with moving stories. I was sitting with my wife, and she was admiring a man's tattoo of an octopus (she has a love of octopi), and he told us how people who were HIV-positive would get biohazard tattoos to let people know they were positive. He felt like he was 'deadly/poisonous' to others, but was also a beautiful being, so he instead tattooed deadly but beautiful animals on his arm. He had the octopus, a jellyfish, and, I believe, a snake. His openness with his diagnosis was just incredible: we were strangers to him, but he just wanted us to know. Help eliminate stigma. The evenings were filled with moving and emotional stories. I had a friend who basically was moved to tears nearly every night."
The one regret he had about his adventure was that he opened his fundraising page too late to raise more money.
"I raised $3,395," he said. "I feel like I could have done better. I didn't think to open my fundraising page until after my wedding, but I did reach my goal in two weeks."
"My takeaway is that I'm inspired to do more," Gilani continued. "I've always seen myself as a fierce advocate for the most vulnerable members of our society, and leaving this makes me want to get off my ass and do more. Unless we have a child before next year's ride, I will be doing this ride next year and hopefully every year. My advice for someone that is thinking about doing it is: JUST DO IT! This is a once in a lifetime type of experience that we are so fortunate to be able to do. Do it."
To learn more about AIDS/LifeCycle, visit http://www.aidslifecycle.org. Information is available online for the work of SFAF at http://www.sfaf.org and the LA LGBT Center at http://www.lalgbtcenter.org.