I tested HIV positive when I was 27 years old. It was 1992 and at the time, I thought the diagnosis was a death sentence. As a gay man trapped in the closet and struggling to come out, life was difficult. I had no job, no support network, and—I thought at the time—no future.
In order to cope, I’d find myself on my bike, cycling the hills of the Palisades Interstate Park in New Jersey, a short ride over the George Washington Bridge from where I lived in New York City. Sometimes I would pass whole days in the park, alternating between cycling as hard as I could and crying my eyes out over how badly I had screwed up my life. At the time, I blamed myself for everything.
Until, on one of those solitary rides, I met a fellow cyclist. We bonded and started riding and training together for century—or 100-mile—rides. Over time, others joined in our training. Within a year, we had a crew of approximately 10 dedicated cyclists. We trained and supported each other in all sorts of ways, an experience that showed me how powerful connecting with others in pursuit of a common goal could be.
My life started to make sense again. Around this time, I was hired by New York Road Runners, the producers of the New York City Marathon, to work on its communications team. For me, the marathon further demonstrated the power of bringing people together to push themselves, physically and mentally, toward a shared goal.
In 2009 my original riding buddy and I decided our little group was ready to grow up, and we formed OutCycling, a New York–based LGBTQ bike club. The club quickly grew to more than 100 cyclists looking for fun, fitness, and friendship. At the club’s core is a training series we run each spring, in which we start off relatively new cyclists with a manageable 20-mile ride. From there, we gradually increase the distance each week until participants are ready for a century ride by early summer.
Then, in 2013, we created our own century, the NYC Pride Ride. We expect more than 500 cyclists to participate this year.
Speaking of pride, there’s another thing I’m especially proud of: our youth program. OutCycling formed Fearless Flyers in 2014, in response to the obstacles that LGBTQ youth face: higher risks of violence, suicide, and substance abuse, often related to lower self-esteem and societal discrimination.
Studies have found that supportive relationships with peers and adults, as well as access to structured activities, can lessen these risks. Fearless Flyers fosters a safe and healthy environment for youth ages 16 to 21. The kids connect to a healthy lifestyle, get physical exercise, learn responsibility and effective communication, and experience advocacy and personal empowerment. Plus, each graduate of the program receives a free bike, a helmet, and a bike lock.
Seeing young people come together and help each other take on the challenges in front of them has made everything worthwhile. Our future is never certain, and for me, who has lived with HIV now for 25-plus years, that’s true for sure. But I cherish the joy of getting on my bike and cycling, and the ability to help others do the same.
I am grateful for each day I am given to do it.