The Friends for Life Bike Rally is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year with a retrospective exhibit at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives.
Approximately 80 people attended the official opening March 14 of The Reason and The Ride, a mixed-media exhibit. The annual trek from Toronto to Montreal raises funds for the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (PWA).
Last year was a year of milestones: the event broke the $10 million mark for funds raised as the PWA celebrated its 25th anniversary. Coming off last year’s high, 2013 is set to be even more memorable, with the exhibit, new fundraising and participation goals, and making connections with organizations Poz Pedalers and Supporting Our Youth.
This year, Friends for Life co-chair Tim Ledger says, they’re hoping to raise $1.4 million and recruit a record 375 riders.
MPP Glen Murray and Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, both of whom are registered to ride this year, hosted the opening.
Spanning two floors of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, the exhibit displays a detailed timeline, starting with founders David Linton and Danny Nashman raising $44,000 in 1999. That year, 531 people in Toronto alone were diagnosed with HIV. The timeline follows the history of the bike rally and PWA, outlining funds raised and services used up until 2012, when the PWA provided 138,000 services to more than 2,400 people.
Ledger says riders, past and present, will especially appreciate the second level of the exhibit, which maps the route of the 600-kilometre ride and gives a breakdown of each day, including photos and clothing saved from special events like Red Dress Day and Talent Night.
“[It’s] sort of the day-by-day experience of the ride. As a rider, it’s really meaningful to me,” he says.
Year 10 saw the most registered riders, with 320 cyclists and about 120 crew members taking on the six-day challenge. Currently, there are 325 registered riders, only 50 away from this year’s goal.
This will be Michael Mohammed’s fifth year participating in the bike rally. As a two-time crew member, he appreciates that the exhibit includes both riders and crew in the jerseys, photos and videos on display.
Bike rally participants are like a family, Mohammed says. They will help you with everything from raising the required $2,500 to helping you find a bike if you don’t have one.
“It’s really like a summer camp,” he says, noting he initially got involved to dive back into a fitness regime but attributes his continued involvement in part to the support the PWA provides friends living with HIV and AIDS.
“It’s so important for our community to understand how the bike rally has grown and met the needs of the PWA over the years,” Ledger says.
Though the organization’s focus has shifted since the bike rally started in 1999, there is still a strong need for funding to support its ongoing programs and services.
“People [living with HIV and AIDS] are living longer, healthier lives, so services that [PWA] provides are more about living as well as they can,” he says.
Co-founder David Linton died two years ago but remains very much a part of the ride, as organizers are introducing the David Linton Memorial Ride as part of training this year.
The exhibit runs until Thursday, April 11 at the CLGA on 34 Isabella St, and the ride kicks off July 28.