S.F.-to-L.A. bicycle ride boosts AIDS battles 

When Gabriel Rocha fell ill to an infection brought on by HIV, his days at San Francisco General Hospital, away from his family in Mexico, left him feeling isolated and depressed.

The only thing that kept Rocha going, he says, were the regular phone calls from a friend participating in the AIDS Lifecycle ride, who said he was riding the 545-mile marathon in his honor.

Now healthy and happy, Rocha has participated in the ride himself the past four years."I think it has become part of my purpose, to help others," Rocha said.

The AIDS Lifecycle ride kicked off its sixth year Sunday, when Rocha, 2,100 riders and 425 "roadie" volunteers registered for the June 3-9 ride.

The seven-day ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles asks riders to collect minimum pledges of $2,500 to benefit the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. The ride has raised $37 million so far.

"It’s really a community of people dedicated to seeing the end of AIDS, and it’s grown every year," said Lifecycle Associate Director Stephen Cassidy, adding that there were just 667 riders and no "roadies" at the first Lifecycle.

Jeanne White-Ginder, AIDS activist and mother of Ryan White, gave a motivational speech at yesterday’s event. Ryan White gained national attention in the 1980s when he contracted AIDS from a hemophilia treatment and was expelled from his school because of his condition; he eventually succumbed to the illness and passed away in 1990.

"This is to keep AIDS in the forefront and it does so much, they [the riders] do it because they care, and so many people don’t care [about AIDS] anymore," White-Ginder said.

Cyclist Sharon Donnelly of San Francisco said she couldn’t imagine her life without the "ride."

"I’m registering for my second year, and I have to say this is the most intense, life-changing thing that has ever happened to me," said Donnelly, who raised $3,200 last year and is going for more this year.

Kate Topolski has been riding for four years, and after losing her mother to AIDS in 1994, she said it is the sense of community that brings her back."I never thought I could do it, but it’s such a great support system," Topolski said.

For more information, visit www.aidslifecycle.org.

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