Matthew O'Maley started planning for the 2018 Ride For AIDS Chicago one year ago, during a major fundraiser for the 2017 Ridewhen he won a bicycle in a silent auction.
"Two of my friends who are Ride veterans had been pushing me to get back to riding," said O'Maley, 50, who lives in Chicago's Buena Park neighborhood with his partner, James, and their dog, Jackie. "It was right around my 50th birthday, and quite honestly, I had been toying with the idea for a while. I [had taken] my old bike for a spin, and while I had thousands of miles on that bike over the years and some wonderful memories, it was time to retire [it]."
O'Maley went to the "View From The Top" fundraiser last summer in Boystown and there as a bicycle available in the fundraising silent auctionand it was exact Trek Hybrid that he had been looking at.
He paid just under $1,000 for that bike.
"It's amazing how much bike technology has improved since I bought my last bike 23 years ago," he said.
He knew he had to ride in 2018.
"The bike and all the stuff that goes with it, [such as the] helmet, shoes, bags, lights, etc., take up too much space in my home to not do the Ride; [it] would be a very expensive laundry rack if I didn't get on it and go."
So, O'Maley is joining hundreds of others riding in the 15th annual Ride For AIDS Chicago which moves from July to September, taking place on Sept. 8-9, and instead of riding to Wisconsin, they will cycle to Michigan.
The Ride for AIDS Chicago is the Midwest's only back-to-back century cycling event. The traditional two-day, 200-mile event will feature an option for a special anniversary distance, with an additional 15 miles in each direction for 230-miles in total. There also is a 100-mile route.
"This actually is my second time doing this Ride. I did it back the early-2000s … and [I] wanted to go one more time," O'Maley said.
"It has been a long time since I last did a Ride, and since my mid-life crisis was in full swing as I turned 50, I decided to get back on the bike. I have some friends who have been involved in the Ride for several years, and they knew I had done Rides in the past, so they were really encouraging. Last year they succeeded in getting me to commit. When I look back at some of the most important moments in my life, the Rides I had done certainly placed near the top of that list, so it is time for me to go back. I lived through the years of going to funerals every weekend [for those who died from HIV/AIDS], of delivering meals on wheels to those [in] need, and it wasn't until I was in my 30s when I could say I had [lived] more years than I had dead friends. While things have dramatically improved for those who are HIV-positive, prevention, awareness, affordable treatment, and ultimately a cure are still needed in the community."
O'Maley, the regional director of procurement for Peninsula Hotels, said he is neither nervous nor excited for the upcoming Ride. Rather, it is comforting.
"I have done it before, and while I hope to complete the full 200 miles, I don't have anything to prove to anyone except myself," he said. "The funds raised for TPAN, raising awareness, and the community that comes from an event like the Ride are far more important to me than how many miles I ride. To me, getting back to the Ride feels [like] coming home.
O'Maley was born and raised in Rockport, Mass., and has lived in Chicago for the past 20 years. He served on the crew for an AIDS ride in the mid-2000s from Orlando to Miamia three-day, 300-mile trek.
"It wasn't until the last day, maybe three miles from the finish-line on a road that was very familiar to us, when one of my friends pulled up beside me in tears and whispered, 'I can't believe we are actually going to finish this,'" O'Maley recalled. "Back then, all the riders were held just short of the finish-line, and once everyone was together, all the riders rode across the finish-line together. I remember everything about that day, [including] the music that was playing, the color [of the] shirt I was wearing, and an emotional rollercoaster like no othersadness for those we lost, hope for a better future, accomplishment and pride in doing something I never thought I could do, and a sense of community among the riders and crew that I never expected.
O'Maley has participated in multiple other AIDS rides, such as one from Boston to New York City; Minneapolis to Chicago; and Fairbanks to Anchorageand all were filled with memories, not just challenges.
He is on Team TPAN for the 2018 Ride and hoping to fundraise $2,000.
"More than any one specific person, it is the experience of living in the late-1980s and early-1990sthat terror and fear, the constant of this epidemic wiping out an entire generation of LGBTQIA+ people that drives me. I wouldn't wish that experience on anyone and will do my damnedest to make sure we don't return to that point."
O'Maley also for 18 years has volunteered with The Night Ministry's Homeless Youth programs. "The issue of homeless youth disproportionately affects the LGBTQIA+ community, and with that comes a host of issues including HIV/AIDS," he said.
The 2018 View From The Top fundraiser, benefitting the Ride's Team TPAN and hosted by SKIN Productions, will be Sunday, July 15, in Boystown, featuring DJs, raffles, silent auctions, go-go dancers and more.
"I have gone to this event, arranged donations in the past, and won a few raffles over the last couple of years. This year, participating [in the Ride] as a rider, [the View From The Top fundraiser] has taken on a new importance to me. Every year this event raises more money than in the past, and we hope to do it again this year.
DJs Alyson Calagna and Jesse Mercado are volunteering their time and services for the fundraiser.
"There are 1,000 clichÃƒ©s that are all appropriate for something like this, but it really boils down to compassion, empathy, community, action, dedication, determination and love. Find what you're passionate about, and do something. Do a walk, a run, a ride, write a check, volunteer your time. I am 50, completely non-athletic, and let's call it 'full figured' … if I can do this, so can you. This fight is not over," O'Maley said.
The Ride For AIDS Chicago major fundraiser for the Test Positive Aware Network ( TPAN ), the annual "View From The Top" fundraiser, is Sunday, July 15, from 3-8 p.m. at 3526 N. Halsted St. in Boystown. To buy tickets, go to: http://support.tpan.com/site/Calendar/1718852406?view=Detail&id=100081