The ACT Ride Experience
Individuals participate in the Wisconsin AIDS Ride for a variety of reasons, some very personal about a friend or family member affected by HIV/AIDS, while others come to the event more as a personal challenge. Still others come back year after year to renew friendships and to experience the closeness of the ACT community and its strong sense of caring and compassion.
I first became interested in riding to raise money for AIDS organizations while living in Philadelphia. I was kept from doing those events for fear that I couldn't do it, a lack of organization, a record of a low return rate to the charity, and the availability of other fundraising events.
In 2008, outgrowing my clothes and constantly feeling tired, I realized the need to focus on my own fitness. I began working with a personal trainer. Andy at Horizon Fitness helped enormously by building core strength and endurance. But without a goal my interest began to fade. Many of my Madison friends are involved with the ACT Ride. All of them encouraged me to get involved. Scott Staples provided the straw that broke the camel's back. After that I began training, registered for the ride and replaced my twenty-seven year old bike. I had found my goal. But, to be honest, in the tradition of Leos around the world it was still "all about me".
Unlike the ride in Philadelphia, the ACT Ride community supports the fundraising with dedicated volunteers and a sharp eye on expenses. I also find fundraising comes naturally when raising money for an efficient, quality-driven community organization like AIDS Network.
The camaraderie and encouragement from the training rides led me to volunteer as a ride leader for ACT 8. I generally lead rides Wednesdays and Saturdays. I hope to meet you on a training ride. Whether you are going to ride, crew, sponsor someone or just a friend I encourage you to come out and peddle a great cause.
In the end, after four days and 300 miles, in the height of my own zodiac, this Leo did something that was not "all about me" and it felt great!
My best friend somehow convinced me to sign up for the ACT 5 ride. Of course I had no bike, no helmet, and hadn't ridden a bike in five years. And I had always vowed no one would ever see me in bike shorts! A new bike and many training rides later, I embarked on my first ACT ride. During those four days I was embraced by strangers, encouraged through seemingly impossible tasks, and felt a true caring, compassion, and community that is often missing in day to day life. Every year I look forward to those four days where I get to enter that fantastic world again.
I ride because when I found out my step-brother David had AIDS, I didn't know what to do. He lived out in California and I was here in Madison, and like the rest of my family, I struggled with feeling helpless because of the many miles between us. David lived over 10 years with AIDS and an unknown number of years as HIV-positive. During that time he took advantage of his "good days" by being as active as possible: hiking in the mountains, white-water rafting, mountain biking, you name it. He kept himself as strong and capable as possible.
When he died in 2004, I wanted to find a way to honor his life and the way he lived with AIDS. By riding in the ACT Ride, I honor David by doing my small part to raise awareness and to insure that people here in Wisconsin, living with HIV and AIDS, are able to have the support and care that they need. I am honored and grateful to ride with such dedicated people- all of us woking hard for a single purpose. We are different ages, we come from different backgrounds, and we all have our own story. For four days each August we create a loving and supportive community together that exists in all our hearts for the rest of the year, until we get to do it all over again.
Food and making people comfortable is what I love dealing with outside of work, so joining the Steering Committee and working on food donations and the food committee was a natural fit. I also have enjoyed the ACT community and becoming a better bike rider.
I started my time with the ACT community on ACT 4. I signed up to crew just to appease a rider who had been after me to sign up. I figured I could volunteer for four days then be done with it. How bad could it be, right? I was so wrong.
By the end of the first day, I had already signed up to crew again the next year. And by the end of the next year, I had signed up to serve on the Steering Committee. It was infectious. The ride was fun and exciting and electric and everyone behaved like your parents taught you that people should.
Sure I may have called 911 over a controlled burn on someone's farm. (People set fires ON PURPOSE in the country. Who knew?) And maybe I got lost once or five times on the route. (I still blame my navigator...) But I was embraced by this wonderful community that was warm and welcoming and compassionate. And none of it felt hokey, we were just all friends having a great time for an important cause.
Some of the best friends I will ever have are because of my four (going on five) years on this ride. It's been hard work. Planning starts for me almost the day after the previous ride ends. But at the end of each day, when I see Rider Zero being walked into camp, and we all hug, I know that we have accomplished something great. I work as hard as I can to ensure that the amazing groups of volunteers that I have been given to privilege to work with have the same amazing experience that I did on ACT 4 and every year since. And that's why, to quote my good friend Jeanne Marshall, "I will be in this Ride til AIDS is over, or I am."
When I come to the ACT Rides, I wear a cow on top of my helmet, first because I work for a dairy farmer cooperative, second because I ride in memory of a former co-worker, a Wisconsin farm boy who was a herdsman on large dairies in Florida, and finally because we have great roads to ride on thanks to the state law that requires a paved road to every dairy farm in the state.
One year my cow had spangles for Mardi Gras, one year she even had a crown for a corral and for ACT 7, she became Super Cow with her red, sparkling cape. I'm sure there are a few folks around town who think I'm a little weird riding around with a cow on my helmet and red streamers down my back. But every year I look forward to the ACT ride as a new exciting adventure where I can bring Ken's memory along and laugh as I squeeze my cow to make her "moo" at all my new friends, and I think of Ken smiling.
I crewed all seven previous ACT rides and helped to design the routes for ACTs II, III, 4, 6 and 7. I most fondly remember serving as one of only four route markers who marked all six days of ACT I, especially being pulled by my partner Nadine (now Nadine Nixon, MD) from a patch of thorny brambles I fell into around 11:00 one dark night along a lonely road near Beloit. Since my ACT I experiences, I have contended that route markers have the most difficult job on the ride. Rumor has it that I will actually bike ACT 8 and that the route committee hopes to get revenge by repeating the route from ACT III.
This was my first year as a crew member for the ACT ride. The weather was unbelieveable; rained torrential rains for days on end it seemed. The experience though was one of the most satisfying! Even after the rain from last year I am back for ACT 8 and have convinced my lovely wife to join me.
I may be best known as the guy behind the camera on ACTs 6 and 7. It is truly inspiring to have the privilege to capture the memories of so many good people working so hard to eradicate HIV/AIDS from our planet.
I began my interest in the Ride as a member of the AIDS Network board, and I became a member of the steering committee for ACT 7. I continue with the Ride because of the wonderful and unique community that develops over those four great days in August.
After working as a neuro imaging specialist for fourteen years at Southwest Michigan MRI Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan, I left the medical field to purchase and operate a nut roasting business. Two years and many thousands of pounds of almonds, pecans and hazelnuts later, my wife and I sold the business and relocated to Madison, Wisconsin in 1997. I have been employed by Zimbrick Infiniti of Madison location ever since moving to Madison.
A dear friend of mine rode in a couple Heartland rides and a couple of ACT Rides. He was also a crew member with his partner doing "sweep." I promised him that I would do the ACT Ride. He passed away just before ACT 4 which gave me absolutely no time to train. I have been involved with the ACT Ride as a rider in 5 and 6, crew member in ACT 7 and I hope to be back in the saddle for ACT 8.
The ACT Ride really gives me the positive juice I need to get through the year.
Is your body sore? Do you need to relax? How about a massage? I am the owner of TIBIA, Inc. (Massage School and Healing Center) which donates gift certificates for top riders/crew fundraisers in addition to providing fifteen plus volunteers to give massages on the ACT Ride.
I first participated with ACT II upon encouragement from my brother Frank Torcaso, who passed away in June, 2006, of AIDS- related complications, and I have been involved with the Steering Committee since ACT 4.
I became involved in the ACT ride because my partner is a biker and wanted to ride. Since I had no desire to sit on a bike for 300 miles, I opted for crew. I've never looked back. ACT 8 was the fifth year that we have been involved with the Ride, and I've even taken the plunge to serve on the Steering Committee. The ACT Ride community, family really, is what keeps me returning year after year as we work together to build an event that really makes a difference locally, and for a cause that enhances the quality of life for the recipients of the services of AIDS Network. I'm extremely proud to be involved with this event.
I began my "second cycling career" as a middle-aged guy by riding with some great people who are members at the Prairie Athletic Club. Among those are John and Demi Rolfes.
As I got back into the sport, I kept hearing from them about how much fun (and challenging) the Wisconsin AIDS rides were. After much good-natured prodding by my fellow cyclists, I took the plunge and participated in ACT 5. While a bit nervous at first about the challenge ahead, I quickly realized that this was more than a bike ride around Southern Wisconsin.
It was a "gathering of like-minded individuals" who not only enjoyed cycling, but who were riding for friends, family and loved ones. The sense of family and camaraderie that existed during those four days in August was like no other event I've participated in. After ACT 5, I was hooked. This ride will be a part of my memories of summer from now on.
My first experience with the ACT Ride was for ACT II. I was a day volunteer for the medical team. There wasn't much for me to do so I ended up helping the PM pit crew to pass out ice and Gatorade. My partner and daughter also crewed that year, so I joined them at camp that night. That is probably when I decided that I needed to do whatever it took to volunteer for the ride the next year. The sense of community and support was so strong that I couldn't imagine not returning.
Since then I have volunteered every year. I have been a part of the medical team, the medical team captain, and last year I was on the sweep crew. This will be my third year on the Steering Committee. There is no way that I would ever ride, even though everyone that has ridden and crewed says that crew is the harder job. I enjoy the support role and look forward every year to the Ride.
ACT 8 was my seventh ACT Ride - three as a rider and four as crew. Since each year brings many challenges and awesome memories, it's hard to pick out one favorite ride. Below is a montage of some of my favorite memories:
- Dressed up as Minnie Mouse directing riders into Lunch Pit in Stoughton.
- Organizing PM Pit and hawking Zola during Mardi Gras day out in the middle of nowhere at one of the most beautiful state parks I've seen.
- Struggling up yet another hill on day four in the pouring rain with Libby and Michelle encouraging me to keep going. I may have always ridden with the caboose, but here's the best kept secret on the ride - caboose rocks!
- Crewing as sweep during ACT 7 and having to sweep riders into Lunch Pit during a thunderstorm. As always, everyone may have been soaked, but we were all safe. I even gave out my last three pairs of socks to riders just because that's what crew is all about.
- But without a doubt, the memory I will hold in my heart forever is hearing Mike McKinney's booming voice shouting out, "Go Rider!" during the last ACT Ride he was with us when he was crewing as sweep. Thanks, Mike
A few years ago, I decided to participate in ACT 7 after hearing from several previous riders what a great experience it was. Initially, I thought of it as a personal challenge as I did not know anyone personally affected by HIV/AIDS, but felt that it was a great cause. It, however, became much more than a personal challenge - it became a life-changing event.
When I started training, I could remember thinking, "This is going to be a long summer because I am having difficulty riding twenty miles." Without the sanctioned training rides, I am not sure that I would have had enough self-discipline to get out there and train like I needed to. The more I trained, the more I began to see myself improve. I started to enjoy riding much more and before I knew it, twenty miles was no big deal, especially now that I can say I have completed a century day!
The ride was tough and challenging, and there were times that I just wanted to stop pedaling and take the Sag bus to the next pit. It was at those times that I had to remind myself that people living with HIV/AIDS don't get the option to take the Sag bus; they must deal with AIDS every day of their lives. Fortunately, other riders could sense that I needed a boost, and with their help and support, I never stopped pedaling, and I am so glad that I did not as my one goal for the ride was to ride every mile.
The riding itself is, however, secondary to what the AIDS Network does for the thirteen counties that it supports. Now that I personally know people living with HIV/AIDS and have heard their stories, the ride has taken on a whole new meaning. I now understand what it means for those living with HIV/AIDS to have the resources and services available that are provided by the Network. Many of them would probably not have any other avenue to get such support. It is great to be a member of a community that is helping to provide that support and reminds me what can happen when a community comes together for the greater good.
I was hooked in to the ACT Ride during the training rides for ACT III. I was unable to participate in that ride due to school commitments, but jumped right in on ACT 4 and have been riding ever since.
I joined Steering Committee for ACT 7 as a way to give back to an event that changed my life. I am probably most remembered as the girl who crashed into a mailbox in Door County prohibiting her from riding ACT 7.
MADISON (WKOW) -- For Bret Schuhart, the bicycle is both a crutch and a source of freedom.
"I'm never pain-free, walking is an extreme challenge for me," said Schuhart at Vilas Park in Madison just before he set out on another training ride for the ACT 7 AIDS Ride.
"People just look at me and they wonder how I'm able to ride a bike."
Schuhart is unable to stand straight up on his own, due to a history of injuries, infections, and complications. The story of his health goes back 27 years.
"Initially I fell off a cliff 70 feet, back in 1982, and that's what started all my spine issues," he said describing a climbing excursion on Gibraltar Rock near Lodi. "My lower back is fused with metal rods from when I fell off the cliff."
He was laid up in a body cast for nine months. He would heal from that, but life kept throwing challenges.
In 1994, Schuhart was diagnosed with HIV. His emotions then tumbled. "Anyone with HIV or AIDS struggles with depression," he said. "You wonder why you should try anymore."
Schuhart describes the years that followed as ones filled with harsh life lessons about living with the disease. Finding someone to share his life with seemed impossible after he would reveal his status.
"One of the harshest realities for me was that having children was no longer an option."
Drug cocktails became the norm, including more drugs meant to pacify the side effects of the pills that more directly treat the virus and his immune system.
Schuhart said he came a shut-in. With a weakening immune system, he repeatedly developed pneumonia.
Three years after his diagnosis, he sought help from AIDS Network. A case worker was assigned. Volunteers would show up to do house chores like snow shoveling and raking. He found small personal items like laundry detergent through the center's pantry service. Schuhart even sought legal advice through the agency.
"There's just a wide gambit of things I've been able to tap into."
Then in 2007, an infection struck his neck. "We're thinking it was some residual infection from the pneumonia that I had struggled with, which is indirectly related to a compromised immune system."
Doctors removed vertebrae. He spent six months back in a body cast. It was during that rehabilitation in a pool where Schuhart found the motivation to not only heal, but to improve to the point that he could participate as a first-time rider in the ACT 7 AIDS Ride.
He recounted advice he received from an uncle. "It made me realize after being a shut-in in my house for a couple of years, it was time to expand my world, and I was the only one that could do that."
With another surgery slated for September to straighten his back, Brett Schuhart decided to challenge himself to ride 300 miles in four days through the rolling hills of southern Wisconsin as a way to get in shape for the looming procedure.
"We all have struggles in life, we all need help to get through those struggles, and we can't forget to help the people who get us through those struggles," he said.
Schuhart will have help. When another ACT rider heard his life story, the out-of-state rider lent a bike won in a raffle two months ago, and donated it to Brett. It's easier to pedal and lighter in weight than Schuhart's last bike.
"It was like getting into a Corvette compared to a Chevy Vega," he laughs.
The new bike now resembles Bret's new path in life, hoping to make it easier up any obstacle thrown his way.
"It's been an overwhelming experience, and it's only just begun," he said.
"I'm scared, but I'm excited," he added. "If I can't that's cool, but I'm determined to do the whole 300 (miles). At least, I hope."
I remember seeing an ad in the Isthmus and thinking, "Are they insane? A 500 mile bike ride?" (The ride was 500 miles at the time.) I had never biked more than 10 miles in my life and honestly thought it was a joke. I decided to go check out the orientation to see if this was for real. Somewhere in the middle of this presentation, I heard I actually had to raise money to do it. Excuse me? I was thinking they should be paying me. But I listened to the presentation, heard about what the ride was like, and thought about my favorite Helen Keller quote: "Life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing at all." I turned around, walked to the back of the room, and registered.
I was scared to death when I showed up at day one. I didn't feel trained. I didn't feel ready. I was shaking as I prepared for opening ceremonies. But as soon as the ceremony began, it hit me. This ride was made for me. In many ways, this is what I'd been waiting for my entire life. Several hundred people gathered together, doing something amazing and unique and challenging, to make a difference in the world. I stopped shaking and my heart filled with so much love and hope that I thought it might burst. I'm not a fast rider but I sure tried to be fast. I didn't know any better. By my second ride, I knew I could make it, so I hung at the back. Maybe they ride in the back to because they are slow. Maybe because they are scared. Maybe because its a good excuse to get off their bike for a moment and take a well deserved rest. Either way, these are my people. In my ten AIDS Rides, I've spent seven at or near the back. Singing, laughing, cheering people up hills, meeting new people, making new friends, and watching as the most amazing people I've ever met do what they never thought possible. They give me more strength than anything I've ever experienced.
One of the mottos of the Ride is "Change your life, change your world." The AIDS Ride changed my life forever. In fact, other than having children, it may have be the most life-changing event of my life. I have never, and will never, be the same. But the beauty of the ride is not just the ability to change one's one life, to embark upon a new trajectory that gives you a whole new appreciation for what you can do and why its so important. No, the beauty also lies in the fact that you aren't doing this for yourself. The life changing benefits are the gravy, the unintended benefit that no one expects until you are in the middle of it, feeling it, realizing that you will never be the same.
But the real thing is about changing the world. About doing something that causes a profound shift in the earth, like a rainbow that never goes away. Everything is a little better, cleaner, more beautiful. "Hey," one can say while pointing to this stunning work of art, "I made that." The ACT Ride isn't just a monument though, etched in stone and sitting, on display. It is alive. It is a living, breathing tapestry that weaves a little magic into everything it touches. Into the riders. Into the crew. Into the people that cheer us out of opening ceremonies and back into closing. Into the children that sit along the route and hand out lemonade. Who can measure the impact of what they are seeing, and what it will do to them in ten years? Maybe they'll volunteer at a soup kitchen or tutor a child. Maybe they'll run for President. Maybe they'll change their life and change their world. Because they were touched, a decade earlier, by a living breathing tapestry of amazing people who decided to get up and INSPIRE them.
I don't know. Maybe that's what I love the most. The inspiration I get by watching someone who knows with absolute certainty that they can't get up that hill, do exactly that. The inspiration that flows like petals from a flower to all who see us. I just had surgery and can't participate this year. But ACT 9? Yeah, I'll be back. At the back. With my people.
That's why I ride.
ACT 7 was my first ride and even though the weather was absolutely, unbelievably horrible, it was one of the best experiences of my life. I've made so many lifelong friendships that I would have never had the chance of making were it not for the ride. I learned a lifelong lesson that I can truly do ANYTHING I set my mind to. And most importantly, I learned how kind and generous people can be. I will keep riding until there is a cure.
I started with ACT 4... and here I am staring ACT 8!
The people, the challenge, the cause, the work, the planning, the big picture...it's why I have become hooked. You may not see your fellow riders/crew for months, but when training starts, you get pumped up and motivated to contribute to this cause. So many inspirations! So many fantastic people! How can you not come back?
Now I say every Ride on Day 3, "Re-act, Baby!"