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In years past, New York attorney Jim Williams biked in the AIDS/LifeCycle to help raise money for friends infected with HIV. This year, he's biking as a poz athlete across the country as part of a team to help raise AIDS awareness and to prove to himself and others that life rolls on.
Williams and two other 52-year-old HIV-positive athletes, Steven Berveling of Sydney and Don Smith of Vancouver, are racing with Francisco Liuzzi, 34, of New York City as Team4HIVHope in the 30th annual Race Across America â€" a grueling 3,000-mile trek from Oceanside, California, to Annapolis, Maryland that is perhaps the toughest endurance cycling event in the world.
RAAM crosses 12 states and, unlike European races such as the Tour de France, is a continuous race rather than broken into stages. Women racing alone and men over the age of 60 will start on June 14; other solo men on June 15; and relay teams of two, four, or eight members will depart June 18. Teams are given nine days to finish and soloists are allowed 12 days.
Williams had started cycling years ago when he trained for and rode in AIDS/LifeCycle.
"I felt like a hypocrite, though, doing an AIDS ride and not knowing my own status," Williams told the Bay Area Reporter. "I suspected I was positive, but I kept putting off getting tested."
Five years ago he stopped putting it off and got tested. And then he knew.
"When I was diagnosed, I decided to hit it fast and hard," he said. He started treatment immediately even though his T-cell count was still at a healthy high.
"I didn't want to wait," he said. "It was hard adjusting to the medications. There have been ups and downs. I had to switch my medications once. But so far I have been asymptomatic."
Berveling, who won three gold medals in his age group last year at the Gay Games in Cologne, Germany, came up with the idea of putting together a poz team for the race.
"I ride because it confirms that I am alive, and to show that HIV need not be an impediment against participating in major sports," Berveling said. "I'm determined to live life to the fullest, even with HIV."
Berveling said USA's decision to drop restrictions on travel by HIV-infected persons made his decision to race in RAAM easier, but he had trouble getting interested cyclists from some countries willing to disclose their HIV status because of the very stigmas the racers are trying to erase. In June 2010, Positive Pedalers put Berveling in contact with Williams and within minutes they were working to put together the team, competing under the auspices of UTECVelo, the cycling branch of the Until There's a Cure organization.
Williams speaks of the thrill and the beauty of the race he is looking forward to â€" "How many people can say they've seen the United States from the saddle of a bicycle?" â€" but as the date approaches the nervousness is setting in.
"I'm very nervous and very scared, but I'm really looking forward to it," he said. "The enormity of it has started to sink in, what we're about to do. Before it's been some sort of esoteric thing that we've been training for."
The racers will be accompanied by large support crews to keep them going and the first weeks of June are devoted to settling logistics and putting together supplies.
"I think we're going to have a lot of the same challenges that everybody else does," Williams said. "Everybody who takes on RAAM has those thoughts of, 'What am I doing?' Putting your body through this type of endurance test lowers your immune system, and we're taxed already, so we need to be more conscious and aware of it. For example, in the Rockies, it is not uncommon for racers to get a case of pneumonia. We've got a nurse on our crew who is going to be with our racers pretty much all the time."
Williams laughed when I asked him what his personal goals were for the race.
"I'm either going to be dead or in really good shape," he said. "I want to see how fast I can ride my bike across the country. My goal is to do my best and not let my teammates down."
And Williams said he and his teammates hope folks take notice of what they do.
"We're trying to eliminate the stigma attached to HIV," he said. "That's one of the things that keeps people like me from getting their status tested. We need to get people tested and get them the medications they need. We want to show that with the proper treatment and medication, people with HIV and AIDS can contribute to society and do almost anything everybody else can do."
Check out the following links for more information: http://www.raceacrossamerica.org, http://www.pospeds.org, http://www.utacvelo.wordpress.com, and www.team4hivhope.com. To read Berveling's blog, visit http://www.raampositive.blogspot.com.
Tickets for Giants LGBT night on sale
Tickets are available for the San Francisco Giants LGBT Night at AT&T Park, Monday, August 29. The Giants will play the Chicago Cubs at 7:15 p.m. that night.
The reserve infield tickets have a base price of $24, which works out to $33.75 with fees and handling. Purchase includes seating in a special LGBT section, pre-game party, and commemorative hat.
To order tickets, visit http://sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com/sf/ticketing/group_special_events.jsp - lgbt.
The Giants this week released their It Gets Better video, which can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/3p6yhce.
LGBT coaches group forming
As a volunteer with the Federation of Gay Games, I was asked this year to help coordinate the FGG's interactions with North American LGBT sports youth groups, a natural tie-in with my work in coaching. As I started connecting with the groups for athletes, it occurred to me that no organization existed through which LGBT coaches could connect with each other. Last week I started reaching out to other coaches I know in the community and we have started Equality Coaching Alliance as a place where as coaches we can address issues we face on a daily basis.