Jennifer Munro-Galloway lost her father to AIDS in 1990. It was a time when effective anti-retroviral treatments weren’t yet available and stigma surrounding HIV was rife.
This is why she’s riding in the 2015 Toronto People Living With AIDS Foundation’s (PWA) annual Friends For Life Bike Rally for the first time.
“Twenty-five years this month, my family lost my Dad to HIV/AIDS,” Munro-Galloway says. “I remember so well that night that the call came into the camp office where I was working in Muskoka letting me know that Dad had died. It was a deeply sad, life-changing time. Losing a parent is hard, losing a parent to HIV/AIDS in 1990, was practically unspeakable.
“When my dad was diagnosed in the late 1980s, times were different,” she says. “At the time HIV/AIDS was deemed a death sentence and I knew it. Reflecting back on that time, I can’t help but feel so grateful now that times have changed. Thankfully a diagnosis in 2015 is not a death sentence. Now there are better treatment options, complex care supports, and greater awareness around HIV/AIDS so that people affected by this terrible disease can live full and meaningful lives with dignity, love and support.”
Embarking on the epic, six-day, 600 kilometre bike trek from Toronto to Montreal can be an intimidating proposition, but Munro-Galloway says making the commitment to join the Bike Rally came easily and that fundraising hasn’t been the challenge she anticipated. The activist became inspired to get involved by her fitness instructor.
“Back in 2013, one of my favourite YMCA fitness instructors, John Sauriol, missed a week of classes. When he returned, with a rather obvious cyclist’s tan, I asked him what he had been up to, and that is when he shared that he had just rode his bike to Montreal for the fifth time,” she says.
Munro-Galloway says that until there is a vaccine and cure for HIV, fundraisers like the Friends For Life Bike Rally are critical to keeping the dialogue flowing and raising awareness and funds for direct-support services for people living with HIV/AIDS.
“The bike rally is important because it keeps people talking about HIV/AIDS. In Toronto, thousands of people are living with HIV and approximately one-quarter of Canada’s HIV positive population live and access care at PWA. Until HIV/AIDS is wiped out, we need to keep talking,” says Munro-Galloway.