It was race day and I walked into a room of people I had briefly met once. It was so early in the morning that it was still dark. I was wearing a shirt that was covered in rhinestones that, I like to think, sparkled under fluorescent lights of the gym. I braided hair of people I just met. I teared up at a pre-race wedding proposal of two people I had met twice. Then I voluntarily ran 26.2 miles and liked it.
I’m I SURE you have many burning questions to ask me. (Insert eye roll here). One question I’ve decided you might have about me is why I’m SOOOO into raising money for HIV/AIDS. Why am I signed up for a second marathon with the Team To End AIDS? Also why have I had the Until There’s a Cure bracelet since 1996? And why did I join the Ribbon Project AIDS Awareness club in college when I wasn’t putting it on my resume to get into medical school?
Guess what, I’m going to tell you. Shocker!
I remember growing up in the eighties and my parents would watch the news in the morning and night. I would block out the boring stuff but I got sucked in by the human interest stories. The one that stuck with me was the story about Ryan White.
Let me back up here. There is a chance you have no idea who I’m talking about. Maybe you do. Maybe you were born in the 90s and this story didn’t transcend the decades. Feel free to catch up on his story here! Hear him speak about his experience here and here.
I remember his story was all over the news. This kid had an illness and they would not let him go to school. People protested about it and said awful things….about a KID. I asked my parents about it. I watched every news story I could. I tried to make sense of why people would be SO MEAN to a kid who was struggling with something that he could not change.
I wanted to be his friend. I wanted him to know that not everyone was scared of him. From what I was hearing about the virus was that he was not a threat to anyone around him and I simply couldn’t understand why people would be so incredibly awful.
This story stuck with me. I read Ryan White’s autobiography and joined his “fan club”. I wore my Until There’s a Cure bracelet with the idea that if people could not get rid of their virus that I wouldn’t take off my bracelet until the virus was eradicated. I participated in awareness campaigns, attended a training at Camp Heartland, and joined the AIDS Awareness club at college. (This is actually where I met my husband!)
Fast forward to 2018. Two of my friends got into the Chicago Marathon by the lottery. I didn’t. I decided to go the charity route but I had to find one I could wholeheartedly stand (run?) behind. I saw T2, Team To End AIDS and I was in. I felt a bit guilty that I had used the charity to get my race bib but I quickly realized this was the team I was destined to be on. Great cause, great people, and an experience I will treasure forever. And then do it again this October.
Tonight I was looking for a book and I stumbled upon the copy of Ryan White’s autobiography that I read as a kid. I showed it to my daughter and she was also taken by his story. She’s just at the beginning but I’m very curious what she takes out of the story and how it shapes her own thinking.
The story of Ryan White and the senseless prejudice he endured shaped the person I am today. We are all human beings who deserve love and acceptance and the ability to life life to the fullest and not affected by the fear and prejudice of others.
I will run in honor of those who are living with HIV/AIDS and in memory for those who have left us too soon and I will do it with my #GangInRed.
You can see me wearing my bracelet on New Years Day 1997!