Spectators applauded as cyclist Kevin Lukomski rode up to Laguna Beach's Festival of Arts grounds Saturday after he completed a 100-mile ride through Orange County to raise funds for AIDS Services Foundation. Lukomski and more than 160 cyclists raised close to $100,000 for ASFOC, an organization which works towards AIDS education, prevention and provides services for more than 1,600 individuals with HIV diseases.
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Although Lukomski was huffing and puffing, he was smiling after finishing his "century ride."
"I feel good," said Lukomski. "It's a psychological game as much as it is a physical game. I'm not doing it for myself. I'm not doing it for a trophy. I'm not doing it for medals. I'm doing it for the people, our neighbors. So when you wrap your head around that, it makes [the task] very easy."
ASF executive director and CEO Philip Yaeger clapped and cheered as Lukomski crossed the finish line.
"Between $100,000 and $130,000 will be raised today," said Yaeger. "Those funds will be used to provide HIV testing to at-risk populations in Orange County and to provide care and support for individuals who are living with HIV and AIDS, with a goal of returning them to self-sufficiency."
Chairman of OCRA Jorge Rodriguez congratulated Lukomski on finishing the ride. Rodriguez has been on the ASF board for 20 years. He's also a physician who specializes in the treatment of HIV and AIDS.
"[ASF] fills a very unmet need in this county," said Rodriguez. "There's no other organization like this in Orange County. All the money comes from donations and government grants. We do everything from feeding people to taking them to their doctor. Everybody thinks HIV and AIDS is cured. It isn't ... far from it. But now we have the chance to actually stop the spread of it, and that's very important."
Chris Bragg, events director at AIDS Services Foundation, was on hand coordinating activities. Bragg's uncle was an ASF client.
"He's one of the living and breathing examples of a true success story that comes out of the work we do," said Bragg. "I got involved with ASF, and I was supposed to be there a couple of months. It's been three and a half years. And I'm going to stick around for a while."
OC Ride for AIDS committee member Sherri Davison rode for the first time last year, and it inspired her to get in even better shape to support ASFOC. Several years ago, her close friend was the first heterosexual woman to die from AIDS on the Hawaiian Islands. More recently, her good friend's husband was diagnosed with AIDS.
"[He was finally diagnosed] after three years of doctors misdiagnosing him," said Davison. "Because he was heterosexual and because he did not look like he was in a 'suspect group,' they didn't give him a simple test. He almost died. By the time they gave him the test, he had full-blown AIDS."
Davison said, "I know that AIDS Services Foundation, if they had another $100,000, would put every penny of that into testing and early detection. So the better that this ride gets, the more money we'll have for testing. I'm going to hold a vision that this is the beginning, and that we're just going to keep growing this event and it will just keep getting better every year."
Shelley Weir also completed the century ride, and she raised about $700 for ASF.
"I love the ride," said Weir, "but it's all about the cause. It's all about raising money for ASF so that they can help people living with HIV who can't afford to get it any other way."
Cyclists interested in signing up for next year may do so now. There is a 100-mile century ride, a metric century ride (62.5 miles) and a 30-mile ride.