All photos/art by Ian Aldrich
Think back for a moment to 1989 and the world that was unfolding around AIDS and HIV. Medical research on the disease was still in its infancy, and the stigma directed toward those carrying the virus was often severe. That same year, Suzy Becker, an artist and, at the time, owner of a small, successful greeting-card company in Lexington, Massachusetts, decided to see whether she could change things. Her idea: rally a group of dedicated cyclists for a ride to raise money for treatment and awareness. The result: 13 riders and $30,000.
Today, Ride For AIDS Resources (Ride FAR) is the oldest continually run AIDS/HIV bike-a-thon in the country. Held in September every other year, the fundraiser has generated more than a million dollars for things like a quiltmaking project, involving middle-school children in Rhode Island, that honors those who’ve lost their life to AIDS, and larger international endeavors, as well, such as expansion of treatment availability for children in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Last year the ride raised $157,500–its most ever.
Its success has caught even Becker by surprise. But so has the fact that she’s had to keep doing it.
“I thought the bike-a-thon would go on, but I thought they’d find a cure and then we’d have a good ride for another cause,” says Becker, who lives in Bolton, Massachusetts, with her wife, Lorene Jean, and their young daughter, Aurora.
During the ride’s two-decade run, Becker has filled out a resume that could cover the work life of several people: She co-founded a Massachusetts charter school; she served as a White House fellow under President Clinton; she’s a New York Times best-selling author, and in conjunction with her newest book, Kids Make It Better, has worked with children on coming up with solutions for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And on it goes. Threaded through all of it, however, has been Ride FAR, which Becker not only organizes–the planning begins a full year in advance–but bikes as well.
It hasn’t been an easy journey. She’s kept it going through career changes, marriage, becoming a parent, even illness. In 1999, a determined Becker embarked on the ride just two months after undergoing brain surgery.
Then there’s the five-day ride itself. Last year’s route began in Provincetown, wended its way through Sandwich, dipped into Little Compton, Rhode Island, then wound back to the Bay State and the towns of Franklin and Rutland, before finally finishing up in Stow, some 500 miles later. Grueling? Yes. Addicting? Even more so.
To be clear, the participants aren’t a team of Lance Armstrongs. They’re lawyers, landscape architects, doctors. And of the 25 riders who do it each time, a number have been with Becker since the beginning.
“We don’t have a lot of turnover,” she says. “Once people start doing it, they want to keep doing it.” Becker can relate.