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A journey worthy of the effort

JAMES BALL, Sierra Sun

For five Truckee residents, it was a week they’ll never forget.

Seven days in June marked the sixth annual California AIDS Ride, with 2,955 riders pedaling 580 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles to promote research and awareness for the disease.

Among the nearly 3,000 were Truckee’s Scott Watters, Lisa Coronado-Smith, Claudia Garrison, Claudia Zischke and Mimi Farley.

Though they didn’t all ride together -some didn’t meet until an interview Tuesday -they each share a common bond and similar experiences after riding a road which challenged their bodies and tested their spirits.

Reasons

Garrison said she decided to ride because she was “very blessed” with two children and a good life.

“It was time I started giving back,” she said, recalling an experience 15 years ago when she nursed a friend in the final stages of AIDS.

“It was a real hard thing,” said Garrison, who is a snowboard rental manager at Alpine Meadows.

Zischke said her husband first rode three years ago and decided, “Why not?”

She compared the ride to her move to the United Stated from her native Brazil several years ago. She said she took up bike riding when her mother died. Zischke, who had a baby three years ago, said she is inspired by her 70-year-old soccer player father.

When Zischke commented that no one could imagine how proud she was to have completed the ride, Garrison, Coronado and Farley each volunteer that they, in fact, can.

Coronado was first convinced to ride by her good friend, Watters.

Watters, who grew up with her in Truckee, is HIV-positive, and joined the Positive Peddlers on the ride.

Garrison said she was in awe of Watters’ courage. “He was inspiring,” she said.

Farley has, perhaps, the most compelling story of all. When AIDS first came to the country’s attention she spoke about the disease at colleges.

“I was a preacher,” she said.

Six years ago, Farley had a scare when doctors feared she had AIDS, but a few years later she discovered she had been misdiagnosed.

While she was relieved to find out she didn’t have AIDS, she was also very angry and said she shut down mentally.

During the time she thought she had AIDS, Farley said she didn’t receive support from family and friends, so she decided to become a supporter of the cause, knowing what it meant to those suffering with the disease.

Without sponsorship, she paid her own way -$2,500 to join the ride. Farley said she plans to complete the other four rides in the U.S., paying her own way in each if she has to.

Garrison, who had not met Farley until Tuesday, vowed on the spot to sponsor her next ride.

Doubts

“I’m never going to do this by myself,” Zischke thought during the nearly 600-mile ride. “I feel proud because anybody can give up.”

Having made it through, she said she plans to ride again.

Coronado said she went into the race feeling really scared, but soon caught the hang of it. Inspired by her riding companion, Watters, she soon found herself thinking that one of the day’s rides -approximately 50 miles -was really short.

“I’m someone who lives two blocks from the grocery store and I drive there all the time,” she joked, saying most days averaged 100 miles apiece and the rides lasted 8 to 10 hours.

“Some days it seemed to go so fast,” said Garrison. But she recalled a day in the desert with 100-plus-degree weather which tested her will.

“That was my hardest day,” she said.

Each said they will remember the support of the people along the way.

They remembered a rider named Michael who went up and down hills pushing riders having a tough time. When he would finish with one, Michael would ride back to the bottom of the hill to help another.

“He is an angel,” Garrison said. “He gave up lunch and dinner with his wife to help my niece get in that day.”

Zischke said despite the fact thousands of exhausted riders shared common baths and showers in massive tent cities, everyone was always pleasant.

Garrison called it a “utopia” she was sad to leave when the race ended.

The most poignant moment came when Farley found herself in tears and almost ready to quit because she had torn a ligament and was pedaling with only one leg. Suddenly, she looked up to hear a stranger calling to her.

“They yelled, ‘No. 2347, you’re my hero,'” she said. “This man’s support got me through the day. For once in my life, I was somebody. I was a hero.”

With only one pledge to her name, Farley is ready to move on to the next race. And all because she doesn’t want anyone else to know the loneliness she has felt.


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