The Human Cause

Raising awareness of HIV and AIDS one mile at a time.

Archive for the month “January, 2011”

Illness, Injury, et al

This past weekend produced another sunny San Diego Saturday. Usually such a splendid Saturday morning would be spent on my bike with the best of friends, logging essential miles in preparation for June’s AIDS/LifeCycle. On this morning, however, I found myself writing instead of riding, my new bike sitting idle in the garage while I sat idle on the couch reading up on the latest obstacle to my training: iliotibial band syndrome. To steal the title of Gilda Radner’s autobiography to describe my recent frustrations with missing out on miles, “It’s always something.” Over the holidays, the rain washed away multiple opportunities to ride. The morning of Christmas Eve when I thought folks were too busy to ride, I saw a friend’s facebook post from a ride around the South Bay. Turns out a missed text was the culprit. The next week, abdominal pain sent me to urgent care thinking I might have appendicitis. And now this.

Of course, Gilda’s “something” was her battle with terminal ovarian cancer. My “something” is simply a nagging injury that is keeping me off my bike, spiking my anxiety because I can’t seem to develop any consistency to a training regimen that must be my life for the next few months. Stressed and depressed is how my Saturday began.

Enter Carol. She and her daughter had morning plans for a trip to dog beach in Ocean Beach. She encouraged me to go along, to leave behind my disappointment about missing training, shelve my injury concerns and open up to the possibility of finding joy in another realm. I was reluctant. When I’m struggling with something like this, I tend to withdraw and want to be by myself to go through my process. Gently she pressed, pointing out that while I had no control over my injury, I did have control over the day that could be. And that I had never been to the beach with Birdie, never seen her really run. Carol’s gentle cradling of my heart melted my reluctance. I wiped away my tears and opted for some family time at the beach.

Tails waggin' - all smiles.

It was a gorgeous day to be outside. Sunny and 70 in January, a true blessing. As my bare feet sank into the warm sand, I could feel the muscles in my legs begin to relax. I wasn’t going to attempt wind sprints, but moving my body slowly and deliberately felt good. We let the dogs off leash and they ran wild, playing with each other at first and then moving on to investigate other dogs. Birdie ventured into the water a time or two, but she really wanted to run and play. I so admire dogs’ ability to live in the moment. Joy. That’s all they seemed to know on this playground. Dogs exhausted, we headed to get some lunch. We found a place where we could eat outside so the dogs could be with us and we could soak up more of the spring-like weather. Turns out it was a beautiful day spent with loved ones, a day I would not have experienced had I been out on my bike or stayed at home working through my process.

I’ve never had knee problems. Tens of thousands of squats assuming the position of catcher in my youth gave me strong legs which in turn protect the knees. Ankle injuries – now that’s an entire blog post in itself. Since taking up cycling in ’98, I’ve never really been sidelined with an injury, so this is a completely new reality for me. It doesn’t hurt when I’m riding, but shows up the next day as pain, burning and a general tightness that is just plain uncomfortable. A trip to the chiropractor revealed tightness at both ends of the IT band so deep tissue massage and foam roller torture are in my future the next few weeks, but I should be back on my bike soon.

Earlier this week, everything fell into place for a spontaneous dinner with friends and AIDS/LifeCycle teammates, Carin and Tammy. Spontaneity does good for the soul of someone who’s a planner (read “anal retentive”) like me. We shared a long, slow dinner filled with laughter, a few tears and some serious conversation around recent challenges we’ve each faced with our training. For me, it’s all about adjusting my expectations. In training for past events, I’ve been consistent and physically able to get in all the miles leading up to the event. The result: I’ve completed every mile of every event. I’m proud of that, and therein lies part of the problem.

AIDS/LifeCycle is a different event on so many levels. It may be that physically, my body won’t be capable of cycling an average of 80 miles a day over seven days. It may be that the goal is to ride every mile completely rather than to simply complete every mile. It may be that being present and open to all that is possible in any given moment over the course of those seven days is the very essence of this event, this cause, this human experience. Already, we’ve met some amazing people, been touched by stories of tragic loss and inspiring triumph and been blessed with the support of friends, family and colleagues far beyond our expectations. Goal?

As our dinner wound down the other night, in the midst of my monologue on preparation and disappointment, I had an epiphany. My ability to complete all 545 miles between San Francisco and Los Angeles is not a measure of me as a human being. That I have opened my heart to doing this – riding, fundraising, increasing awareness, fostering understanding, touching lives and being touched – is. So now I’m working on acceptance. And my ego is learning there is much, much more to the human experience than a 545-mile goal.


How Many Deaths is Too Many?

I met the love of my life in the San Diego Women’s Chorus, a non-audition community chorus open to all women. I hadn’t sung in public since my sixth grade holiday program, but just short of my 40th birthday, I had found my voice and was ready to let the music flow. In SDWC, I found a diverse community of women, each singing from her heart, arms open wide welcoming me into the family.

SDWC is member of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses. Every four years, GALA Choruses holds an international festival bringing thousands of GLBT singers together in song. In July of 2004, we travelled to Montreal for my first GALA festival. That year, more than 5800 singers from all over the world gathered to share our stories through music. I was giddy. I had never been surrounded by so many GLBT folks in all my life. I remember telling Carol I finally understood how my dog felt when I took her to the dog park: “They’re all like ME!

The first few days were busy for SDWC. Sandwiched between our guest appearance with the San Diego Men’s Chorus, our tech rehearsal and our own performance, we took in the performances of several other choruses. We chose one particular concert block to see two of the premiere women’s choruses perform. We expected their sets to be thoroughly enjoyable and of the highest quality, but we were not prepared for the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus to take the stage. They began their set with a simple introduction that went something like this: “We dedicate this evening’s performance to the 113 members we have lost to AIDS.” The house was silent. The chorus on stage numbered around 100; my immediate thought was they had lost an entire chorus to this tragic disease. In Portland. Not San Francisco or Los Angeles or New York City, but Portland. Throughout their moving and inspiring set, silent tears fell as I imagined members of their chorus disappearing one by one until there were no more. I asked myself, “How many deaths is too many?”

That performance was for me, the first time I fully grasped the sheer devastation of this disease – the senseless loss of lives of beautiful, talented, joyful human beings. Their voices would never again be heard in song, their laughter silenced, the comfort of their embrace just a memory. Such grief and tragedy in the loss of lives to this disease that now totals more than 36 million worldwide, about the population of California. Every 12 seconds, another person is infected with HIV. Every 16 seconds, another death from AIDS. Today, nearly 30 years after the CDC reported the first AIDS diagnosis, Carol and I are committed to making a difference in the fight to end HIV and AIDS because one more death is too many.

To read more about our commitment, visit AIDS/LifeCycle TeamReaganHarlow.

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