“I look forward to this every year…it’s like three days of therapy with an army of supporters.”
That is how Kristin Mathews, a long-time supporter of the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW), describes AIDS Ride Wisconsin. Now in its 17th year, AIDS Ride Wisconsin is a three-day, 275-mile bike ride through Southern Wisconsin that supports people living with HIV. While this event’s primary goals are raising awareness and funds, AIDS Ride Wisconsin offers so much more. This all-inclusive, fully-supported ride is an opportunity to build community, and to honor loved ones who lost their lives to AIDS.
“AIDS Ride Wisconsin is very personal to me. Some close friends of mine passed away from AIDS-related illnesses, and each time I remember feeling helpless. I wanted to make a difference but I didn’t know how,” said Kristin. “Back in 1998, I remember seeing a huge group of bikers come through town on the national Tanqueray Heartland AIDS Ride, and that’s when it clicked. I realized I could use my love of biking to help others. So I rode in the Tanqueray Heartland ride for the next three years. Then, I was part of a group who organized Wisconsin’s own AIDS bike ride, called the ACT (AIDS Network Cycles Together) Ride. We figured why not create our own state’s bike ride with the experience we’ve learned along the way? I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Wisconsin’s own AIDS ride, beginning in Madison in 2002 as part of the AIDS Network, invited around 150 bike enthusiasts to tour Southern Wisconsin and support education, treatment and preventative services for people affected by or at high-risk for HIV. In 2015, the AIDS Network merged with the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin and the ride became known as AIDS Ride Wisconsin. While the name has changed, the importance of helping others with HIV/AIDS remains the same.
Over 17 years, Kristin has done it all: biked countless miles, volunteered as a crew member, organized logistical details on the ride’s Steering Committee, and has even become one of the event’s top fundraisers – raising more than $140,000 over the years for the fight against HIV and AIDS.
“I am continually amazed at how even a single person’s efforts can impact a whole community. I’ve realized that my passion is contagious; I now have friends and family who eagerly await my participation in AIDS Ride Wisconsin and have a check already written out to contribute,” said Kristin. “Even people who haven’t been personally affected by HIV/AIDS can still make a big difference in someone else’s life. At its core, everyone on this bike ride believes all humans deserve to live long, healthy lives. And that’s what’s special about this bike ride – every participant will make a significant, direct impact on the lives of others in our community.”
Today, approximately 8,300 people are living with HIV/AIDS in Wisconsin, with an estimated 1,200 people who are living with the disease who are not diagnosed*. The AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin houses the ARCW Medical Home – Wisconsin’s largest and fastest growing HIV health care system. Due to quality health care and services provided by ARCW, people diagnosed with HIV in Wisconsin live longer than those diagnosed in any other state in the country. Patients gain high quality health care and support they need to live long, healthy lives through the Medical Home’s integrated medical, dental and mental health clinics; pharmacy and medication assistance program; and dedicated services such as food pantries, housing, legal representation and social work case management. ARCW is dedicated to staying on the forefront of HIV health care and preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. This is made possible in part due to the funds raised by AIDS Ride Wisconsin participants. Designed for all levels of riders, this bike ride will challenge, energize and inspire. It offers an opportunity for riders to push themselves physically, participate in a supportive community, and raise funds and awareness about the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic, all from a bicycle seat.
“I figure, this social issue isn’t unfortunately going to end anytime soon, so why shouldn’t I ride?,” Kristin remarked. While Kristin helped start AIDS Ride Wisconsin 17 years ago, she has no intention of slowing down anytime soon. Rather, she continues to have lofty dreams for this bike ride. Kristin envisions this event continuing to grow: more bike riders from across Wisconsin and beyond will join the cause, more volunteers will serve on crew to ensure a smooth and successful event, and more people on the ride will feel they belong to the ride’s community. More dollars will be raised to directly support services at ARCW, and more people living with HIV will live long, happy lives.
“Every year of AIDS Ride Wisconsin, I’m surrounded by positive, joyful, and compassionate people,” Kristin reflected. “This group has become an extension of my family. This ride always rejuvenates me. That’s why I call this ride my three days of therapy. That’s why I keep coming back.”
AIDS Ride Wisconsin is set to take place Friday, July 26-Sunday, July 28, 2019. To learn more about the ride and to register, visit www.aidsridewis.org
*Source: Wisconsin Department of Health Services https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/publications/p00484.pdf