Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Harder Than I've Ever Been Hugged

I’ve been volunteering with my local high school mountain bike team for the past 2 months. Each week, I teach a hard, 90-minute, power-based indoor training session. Most of the kids are super-focused. A couple are a bit distracted. But all in all, we have a lot of fun together.

I like kids. I don’t have them and I’ve never wanted them. But I like them. They’re real.  They’re honest. They don’t play games. They want to please you.  And they love seeing results.

Las night, a new girl joined the team. She’s the daughter of the head coach’s co-worker and I was told in advance that she’s never participated in sports, doesn’t really exercise, and suffers from depression. She was a trooper and jumped right in. It was really challenging for her, but she stuck it out and completed the workout.

After training, we all discussed upcoming events and all the boys (yes, we have all boys on the team, except one other new girl who wasn’t there tonight) introduced themselves and they all chatted and laughed together.

As we were leaving, she lingered a bit and then ran up and hugged me harder than I’ve ever been hugged. I thought she might cry. She told me that she had so much fun and had never felt the way she felt during and after the workout.  I’m sure she didn’t know it, but she was experiencing that endorphin high that we all love.

I’m sure you’ve read articles that extoll the mental health benefits of exercise.  Physical activity will improve your mood, your memory, and your cognitive function.  As we age, it keeps us young.  For the young, it can keep them focused and combat the symptoms of ADHD.  For me, it relieves anxiety and depression.  It calms me when I’m wired and lifts me up when I’m down.

It doesn’t take much exercise to yield benefits.  30 minutes a day will improve your life.  The key is to make time for yourself on a consistent basis.  And who knows, you might feel like hugging someone, too!

fitness is my drug of choice

Monday, December 1, 2014

World AIDS Day Ride

Today is the 26th World AIDS Day.  This morning I participated in a WAD ride sponsored by Positive Pedalers, an international cycling club that focuses on erasing stigma of HIV/AIDS by being a positive presence in that community (and to those outside that community).  The ride was followed by a ceremony at the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park.

2014 World AIDS Day Ride in San Francisco
2014 World AIDS Day Ride in San Francisco

I was a young adult in the 1980s.  I worked in theatre during these years, a community especially hard hit in the early years of HIV and AIDS.  I distinctly remember my first friend who shared his positive HIV/AIDS status with me.  His name was Wayne, he bore a striking resemblance to David Bowie, and I had a terrible crush on him.  I haven’t thought about Wayne in many years.  As I feared, a quick google search yields no results.

Wayne and I worked together on a children’s theatre tour in the Washington, DC metro area.  For 10 months, the two of us, along with three other actors, toured schools 5 days a week.  We travelled together, performing at two schools each day, in a van packed tightly with costumes, sets, and sound equipment.  The five of us became very close.

One day, sitting in a Burger King on lunch break, Wayne told us he had tested positive.  I remember thinking it was a death sentence.  I cried openly.  So did everyone else.  I held him close.  I wondered, since we weren’t very educated about transmission in those early days, if I could contract HIV because I had shared sodas and cigarettes with him.  But mostly, I was devastated.  I mourned, because he was symptomatic and I knew he would die.

Over the years, I’ve had countless friends and colleagues who were HIV positive.  I’ve known countless others who have died of AIDS.  It’s been a part of my entire adult life.

More than a decade later, in 1998, I moved to the San Francisco area.  Wanting to find a volunteer opportunity, I registered to participate in the California AIDS Ride, a 7-day, 600-mile bicycle ride that raised funds and awareness for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.  When I registered, I did so because I wanted to improve my health and I wanted to feel a part of my community.  But, like many participants, as I trained and then completed the ride, it became more about HIV/AIDS than about me and my goals.  And what I learned through that experience was that there were many folks who lived with HIV and AIDS and also rode their bicycles in that event.  AIDS was no longer a death sentence.

There’s a prevailing feeling, especially among our youth, that AIDS is not dangerous.  It won’t kill you.  It’s a thing of the past.  There are drugs to treat it.  And that’s the demographic that’s seeing an increased diagnosis of HIV and AIDS.

So, today, I ask you to think about AIDS.  Remember that we’re still fighting this disease.  And, if you have the opportunity to influence a young person about the risks and prevention, please don’t hesitate to take action.