More than 300 people set out from Queen’s Park on July 24, en route to Montreal for the 13th annual Friends for Life Bike Rally. The event, organized by and in support of the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (TPWAF), is the largest yet and is expected to raise at least $1.4 million.
“It’s such a phenomenal cause,” says Donna Turner, one of this year’s cyclists. “A really good friend of mine who worked with me actually passed away about five years ago. He’s one of the reasons that I’m doing this.”
Turner says there’s an infectious spirit among those on the bike rally that encourages more people to ride each year.
“The people who do the bike rally over and over again have such amazing things to say about it,” she says. “They’re so into it, they’re out in the community talking about it all the time, almost year-round… People like us just want to try it.”
Turner has some experience cycling and participated in the training rides this year, but she says she’s still nervous. “It’s a long distance. I’m trying to look at it as bits and pieces. I can make it to the next break,” she laughs.
This is Sheldon Kennedy’s third year on the bike rally. He says he’s fully prepared. “It’s only a maximum of 127 kilometres a day.” His first time out, he says, he was more nervous, but this year he’s just “doing it again.”
Kennedy says the event grows larger every year, not just because the funds go toward a good cause; it’s also because the rally is a lot of fun. “It’s like summer camp for adults.”
Tyler Ennis sports a disco-themed helmet and is now in his second year in the rally. He has travelled abroad for the last 10 years and saw TPWAF help a friend while overseas.
“A very good friend of mine who is HIV-positive became very ill, and TPWAF was there to get him through a very hard time. When I came back in 2004/2005, he said to me, ‘I’ve been doing this ride for a couple years and you’re going to come do it.’” Ennis did the ride, fell in love with it, and knew when he arrived back in Canada, he would ride again. “It’s a way for me to say thank you to the foundation for helping my friend out.”
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, an estimated 65,000 Canadians were living with HIV at the end of 2008. Almost half of new infections were among men who have sex with men. An estimated 27 percent of all HIV-positive Canadians are unaware of their infection.
To support the riders and to help the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation reach its fundraising goal, go to bikerally.org to pledge and find out more information about the journey and the organization.
Photos by James Bradford.