“Be prepared for the most life-changing experience you’ll ever encounter in the Friends For Life Bike Rally,” says Jeffrey Graham, spokesperson for Toronto People With AIDS Foundation’s (PWA) Friends For Life Bike Rally. “You will laugh, you will cry. You will be encouraged and inspired, and you will encourage and inspire others. You will help raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and help eradicate the stigma associated with it.
“And most importantly, you will contribute to helping a person live a better life by raising money for PWA so that they can continue to provide the services needed by so many.”
Now in its 17th year, the Friends For Life Bike Rally raises funds for PWA and services accessed by Toronto’s HIV-positive population. In 2014 alone, PWA provided more than 63,000 services to more than 2,400 individuals living with HIV and AIDS. A quarter of Canada’s HIV-positive population reside in Toronto.
The six-day trek from Toronto to Montreal may seem gruelling, but Graham says participants undergo extensive training and receive ample support before departure day. The senses of camaraderie and community that participants experience are among the most attractive features the program has to offer. By the time the trek is underway, the group of riders will climb to 400 participants.
“A 600-kilometre bike ride from Toronto to Montreal is not an easy feat and riders of all experience levels participate each year. The Bike Rally offers a program of training support and workshops to make sure all participants are fully prepared for the journey, including indoor spin classes in the winter months; weekend outdoor training rides that began in April; and a series of workshops and seminars that cover everything from proper cycling techniques, hills and skills training, bike maintenance and proper nutrition, as well as fundraising techniques and support,” Graham says.
This year’s rally has a new planned route out of Toronto. PWA has also introduced the Sponsorship Outreach Program — participants who connect the Bike Rally with a new sponsor will receive a credit to be applied to their fundraising goal.
Graham says one of the most encouraging aspects of the trek is the support riders receive along the way, often collecting on-the-spot donations from smaller communities.
“The ride is six days, each day with stops in various communities for two or three breaks, lunch and at camp at the end of the each day — except in Kingston, where we stay at the residences of Queen’s University. Stopping in these small communities is a great opportunity for us to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and the work that PWA does. Once people hear the story of the Bike Rally, we will often get donations on the spot,” he says.
“With all the training and social events throughout the year, by the time departure day arrives, a group of 400 people has evolved into a small community with a common goal. Participants encourage and help one another, whether it be helping fix a flat tire, or help setting up a tent at camp. After the journey is over, people really do become friends for life.”