Monday, June 18, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 15

Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on June 14th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 15 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 15

Cycling for a cause: Thousands of bicyclists passed through Santa Maria to raise money for HIV/AIDS research and services


While the AIDS epidemic is not as far reaching in America as it was in the ’80s and ’90s, those affected by the disease are still fighting just as hard against the illness. The point of the 545-mile AIDS/LifeCycle bike race is not necessarily to create competition, but rather to raise millions of dollars for multiple organizations that help AIDS patients live their day-to-day lives.

The San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center host the annual event, which is a trek between the two cities—including the Central Coast with a stop in Santa Maria this year.

The 2,226 participants in the LifeCycle bike race made a tough ascent over the grade between SLO and Paso Robles in the middle of the 545 total miles of the race.

The participants of the race were made up of people that are both HIV-positive and HIV-negative. Ranging in age from 18 to 97, cyclists came from nearly every state in the U.S. and 18 countries worldwide to join the journey. Some cyclists raced with an eye on the clock, but all were there to bike in support of fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Day four of the race took place on June 7, and contestants biked from the Mid-State Fairgrounds in Paso Robles down to Preisker Park in Santa Maria. The route made its way across more than 80 miles of Central Coast highway. For rider Ellen Haller from San Francisco, the heavy mileage wasn’t so bad.

“It was a beautiful stretch to ride on. Going by the big rock outside of Morro Bay was gorgeous,” Haller said. “There was a good amount of fog in the morning but we had a wonderful descent down to the coast. It was my fifth year riding so I have seen it all before, but every year it seems to get better and better.”

A faculty member at UC San Francisco, Haller has seen many sides of the debilitating disease. Her experience as both a doctor and friend to sufferers of HIV and AIDS is more than enough motivation to complete the 545-mile bike trek every year.

Bikers of all ages and abilities took part in the annual event that spans from San Francisco to Los Angeles. For many in the race, it was about the journey, not their finish time.

“I was in medical school when the AIDS epidemic first started in 1982, and we didn’t even have a name for it back then,” she said. “I had my residency in San Francisco in the mid-1980s when it just took off. I took care of many, many patients who died of the disease. I also lost a cousin, a brother-in-law, and have had many friends affected by it. So when I heard about this ride and the importance of it, I knew I had to give it a try.”

After a nice reprieve for lunch at Cuesta College, the cyclists finished the second leg of their Central Coast journey at Preisker Park in Santa Maria. With the first leg roughly 50 miles from Paso Robles to San Luis Obispo and the second only 39 miles, it was a packed day for LifeCycle participants.

The sheer magnitude of the event was impressive. The race included 2,226 cyclists, 683 volunteers, and raised roughly $15.1 million for both the San Francisco and Los Angeles organizations. The money goes to worthy causes, according to San Francisco AIDS Foundation spokesman Eric Jost.

“The funds raised go to support our programs, which range from STD and STI testing services, community engagement programs, and broad clinical and social services programs,” he said.

The end of day four, the riders met in Santa Maria’s Preisker Park. Bikers in the race were not shy about showing off their colorful cycling outfits.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the number of new HIV diagnoses fell 19 percent from 2005 to 2014. While those numbers sound promising for those fighting the spread of the disease, roughly 40,000 people in America were diagnosed with an HIV infection in 2015 and more than a million people are surviving with the disease in the country.

Both organizations involved with the AIDS/LifeCycle event are busy 365 days of the year helping those who are dealing with the disease. The Los Angeles LGBT Center was formed in 1969 and now has more than 600 employees that provide more services to LGBT people than any other organization in the world.

The San Francisco AIDS Foundation has a more specific goal in mind, aiming to stem the flow of HIV transmissions as much as they can. The foundation serves more than 16,000 people each year in the greater San Francisco area and is all about educating the population on ways to prevent contracting the virus.

Reaching out
The Los Angeles LGBT Center can be reached through and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation at

Although it was a tiring day filled with plenty of perspiration, the enthusiastic athletes who took part in this year’s LifeCycle played a part in raising funds and spreading awareness.

Sports contributor Keenan Donath can be reached through Managing Editor Joe Payne at

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