Nikiski resident Margo Chilson and her longtime friend Kim Kenyon of New York are not just bothered about the AIDS epidemic around the world, they are trying to do something about it.
The women will bike 500 miles from Fairbanks to Anchorage Aug. 20-25 to help raise money for an AIDS vaccine with the Pallotta TeamWorks Alaska Aids Vaccine Ride, one of three rides that occurs across the United States and Canada. More than 2,000 riders have signed up for the Alaska ride.
Chilson and Kenyon said the AIDS tragedy in the United States is bad enough, but it is worse in other countries. Though neither has lost a close friend or family member to AIDS, they are disturbed by it nonetheless.
According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, one in three adults is infected and has a life expectancy less than age 35 in Botswana, and Nelson Mandela has said one out of every two young people will die of AIDS in South Africa. (For more statistics, see related information on the back page.)
"Eventually, that's not going to be in just one country," Chilson said.
The net proceeds of the funds raised by the Pallotta TeamWorks Alaska AIDS Vaccine Ride will benefit the work of three world AIDS scientists and their research teams as they work to eradicate AIDS through the development of a vaccine.
Both women got involved in the event because they saw it as positive way to help out.
"The physical need to ride in the event is nothing compared to what people have to go through with AIDS," Chilson said of the 500 miles the two will have to ride on the Richardson and Glenn highways.
The women also were involved in last year's event, but on a volunteer basis.
Kenyon saw an advertisement in an outdoor magazine last year and decided she wanted to get involved in something proactive. She called Chilson to see if she wanted to be involved. Chilson also thought it was a great idea.
The two drove to Fairbanks to help out. Both women recall that though last year's event touched them deeply, it also was great fun.
Chilson and Kenyon said they were impacted by the different types of persons involved in the event, including siblings, family members, couples, those who had lost loved ones to AIDS and many cyclists who were HIV positive.
"There were so many people involved to make a difference," Chilson said.
Kenyon said it was the experiences shared with her that made it a personal growing experience.
"It's been about learning other people's stories," she said.
To raise the needed money to participate, both women informed and tapped into their communities for donations.
Kenyon, a college professor in New York, kept a donation cup in her office, as well as held a fund-raising event with a campus church group, participated in four events in New York and made them aware of the Pallotta TeamWorks Alaska Aids Vaccine Ride. She said she believes a personal connection makes a difference.
"People are much more inspired when they know you," she said. "They are committing because we are committing."
Chilson shared the information about the event with her friends, family, church and area businesses. She said she met a lot of kindness from the community that she was raised in.
"The generosity we have run into is incredible," she said, adding that both have been given bikes to use during the event. Together, the women raised more than $9,000. Kenyon was able to get the Pepsi Corporation to match her donations dollar for dollar.
Chilson's first two donations were made in the memory of persons lost to AIDS.
For this year's event, both have been riding to prepare.
Kenyon has been practicing since she signed up for the event, and Chilson has been practicing since school got out in late May.
Chilson said her first long trip was when she was dropped off in Sterling and had to ride back to her Nikiski home. Today, the trip is a drop in the hat to what she can and plans to accomplish with the vaccine ride.
Kenyon said for her, riding the entire 500 miles may not be possible because of a back injury, but participating in the event is the important issue, no matter how far she rides.
For the two women, the challenge is one of many they have been involved in. They met when they were younger and because Chilson lives here and Kenyon loves Alaska, they meet in the state occasionally for adventure.
"We make an effort to go out and do something outside," Chilson said, recalling how they climbed Mount Marathon and the Harding Ice Fields in recent years.
But the ride is about more than just getting outside. The two women believe they are blessed to live in a country that has such resources for those who are HIV positive.
"We are so lucky. We are so fortunate," Kenyon said.
While both women have devoted time and energy to the ride, Chilson believes the important issue for her is to instill a positive attitude in her two children.
"We can make a difference," she said.
How to donate
For those inspired to help Margo Chilson and Kim Kenyons efforts for the Pallotta TeamWorld Alaska AIDS Vaccine Ride from Fairbanks to Anchorage, there are a few ways to help.
Donations can be made by check to the following:
P.O. Box 7173, Nikiski, AK 99635
Online at www.alaskaride.org
Donations can be made to the Pallotta TeamWorld Alaska AIDS Vaccine Ride or in sponsorship of a rider. Chilsons rider number is 20004 and Kenyons number is 20003.
All donations are tax deductible.
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