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NorCal AIDS Cycle (NCAC), an annual four-day, 330-mile cycling fundraiser, ended its 2012 ride on Sunday, May 20, with a moving Closing Ceremony at the State Capitol in Sacramento. As of Sunday, the ride had raised a record $304,000 for 10 Sacramento and Northern California HIV/AIDS service organizations, up from nearly $250,000 raised in 2011.
Some 110 cyclists rode over Sacramento’s landmark Tower Bridge and onto the Capitol grounds at noon on Sunday, with cheering friends, family and the 65 volunteer crew members lining both sides of the sidewalk to the Capitol West Steps.
Some of the NCAC cyclists and crew are HIV positive themselves, others are not. “You can’t tell by looking at us who is and who isn’t,” said cyclist Emily Tsuchida, a nurse practitioner at Sacramento’s CARES Clinic and NCAC board president. “Only we know.” The fact that one cannot tell whether a person is HIV positive simply by looking, she told the Closing Ceremony crowd, highlights the need for everyone to be tested. Currently there are approximately 5,000 people living with HIV in the Sacramento metro area; of those, an estimated 1,000 people do not know they are infected. Nationally, one quarter of new HIV infections occur among adolescents and young adults ages 13-29, according to the CARES Website.
The non-profit organizations that will receive funds from the 2012 NorCal AIDS Cycle are CARES, Breaking Barriers, River City Food Bank, Sunburst Projects, Sacramento Gay & Lesbian Center, Golden Rule Services and HARM Reduction Services; Sierra Foothill AIDS Foundation of Auburn; Caring Choices of Chico-Redding; and Shasta Trinity Tehama HIV Food Bank of Redding. Some of the organizations, faced with cutbacks in federal funding for HIV/AIDS services, depend upon NCAC funding to keep doors open.
Craig Spatola, executive director of beneficiary agency Breaking Barriers, which provides transportation to medical appointments to people living with HIV/AIDS and Rapid HIV Testing and Prevention services, has crewed NorCal AIDS Cycle since its inception. “With cutbacks in funding for HIV/AIDS organizations at the federal, state and local levels, private fundraising efforts such as NorCal AIDS Cycle are literally what is keeping agencies like ours, and the individuals we serve, alive. We wouldn’t be open today if not for the support of NCAC,” Spatola said.
Clarmundo Sullivan, founder and executive director of Golden Rule Services of Sacramento and also an NCAC volunteer crew member, also said NCAC has kept his agency open in the face of funding cuts. Golden Rule Services, which provides culturally appropriate HIV prevention and education services for African American and other communities of color, serves approximately 2,000 people annually, most of whom are uninsured or under-insured. In 2009, due to severe funding cuts to HIV/AIDS services nationally and statewide, Golden Rule Services suddenly lost some 60 percent of its funding. “For the first time since we started Golden Rule Services out of my garage in 2000, I was afraid we might have to close our doors,” Sullivan recalls. Funding from NCAC, along with other private fundraising efforts, helped to close the gap and keep Golden Rule running. Almost half (46 percent) of all new HIV diagnoses in the greater Sacramento region are among African Americans, Sullivan said, even though they comprise only about 7 percent of the total population.
NorCal AIDS Ride kicked off its eighth annual four-day ride on Thursday, May 17, with an Opening Ceremony at Beals Point, Folsom Lake featuring a non-denominational prayer and a performance of the National Anthem by NCAC vice president Emily Fisher. The cyclists rode a circuitous, often challenging route through the Sierra foothills and northern Central Valley, featuring two back-to-back 100-plus-mile days (known as "centuries" in cycling lingo) on Thursday and Friday, and an 8-mile climb up and over into the scenic Capay Valley on Saturday, the third day of the ride. Cyclists and crew alike camped at a different location each night, with overnight stays in Gridley, Williams and Woodland. Volunteer crew members trucked cyclists’ gear from camp to camp, provided well-provisioned rest stops every 20 to 30 miles, placed route signage, and picked up exhausted or injured cyclists in SAG vehicles. Cyclists received a hot breakfast, lunch of salads and sandwiches on the route, and dinner daily, catered by Maranello Catering of Fair Oaks. Bike technicians from Mike’s Bikes and a team of chiropractors and massage therapists helped keep both vehicles and cyclists in good running condition. Nightly programs included route and cycling safety information, HIV/AIDS education and presentations by beneficiary organizations, as well as light-hearted awards and entertainment.
A mobile HIV testing unit provided by Breaking Barriers of Sacramento offered free HIV screening and counseling to both ride participants and the public at each lunch stop and nightly campsite.
NCAC supports cyclists throughout the year with a series of cycling and fund-raising workshops and organized training rides, designed to help both those new to cycling and veteran cyclists prepare for the annual four-day ride.
Each NCAC cyclist raises a minimum of $1,500; each volunteer crew member a minimum of $250. Major sponsors of NorCal AIDS Cycle 2012 were Western Health Advantage, SMUD, Kaiser Permanente, Mike’s Bikes, BrandedSac, Outword Magazine, Chaney Sports Chiropractic, and Stephan's Auto Haus.
Since its inception in 2005, NCAC has raised nearly a million dollars to benefit non-profit HIV/AIDS service providers in the Greater Sacramento region and surrounding areas. The event is among the most successful Sacramento charity fundraisers in history based on total dollars raised.
The mission of NorCal AIDS Cycle is to support organizations throughout Northern California working to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic and to care for those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS in the region through fundraising; to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS, the needs of the community and the benefitting organizations; and to encourage a positive environment for the dignity, quality of life, and acceptance of people affected by and infected with HIV/AIDS. For more information about NorCal AIDS Cycle, or to register as a cyclist or crew member for the 2013 ride, visit www.norcalaidscycle.org.