A fundraiser for Team Cheetah, Cheetah Gym’s Ride for AIDS Chicago team benefiting the Test Positive Awareness Network, was held at Big Chicks Thursday. The event was also a birthday celebration for Team Cheetah crew member and TPAN board member.
Ride for AIDS Chicago has provided TPAN with large source of funding over the years. Last year, the ride raised over $525,000 and this year organizers plan to up that number to $750,000. As much as over $234,000 of that goal has already been raised, according to the organization’s website.
The impact of the event comes not only from the money it raises, but also from the riders. Meg and Fred Valentini made an impression last year, riding a tandem bike for Team PFLAG.
The couple became involved in PFLAG three years ago after their son Phil, who was then 16, made an announcement while she was in the bathroom of their Oak Park home.
“I asked if it had to be right this moment and he said it had to be right now,” Valentini said. “My first response was, ‘How old is she and is she pregnant?’” Phil eventually told her that he was gay. Phil’s family, including his mother, father, and twin brother Mitchell, have all been open and accepting.
When asked how they became involved with Ride for AIDS Chicago, Meg Valentini light-heartedly responded, “We blame Richard,” as in Richard Cordova, the athletics director at TPAN.
The couple met Cordova at the Melrose Cafe, while waiting to clean up for an event they were volunteering for at the Broadway Youth Center, and he suggested that they ride for the event.
The idea of volunteering for an AIDS organization struck a chord with Meg Valentini. She worked in a Northwestern University hospice care unit in the early to mid-’80s.
“We estimated that 90 to 95 percent had AIDS and were dying because, at that time, that’s all that happened to those with AIDS,” she said.
The couple took their 80-pound tandem bike and their competitive spirit and committed them to the cause. They hope to raise $4,500 this year and have a long term goal of making the 7-day long and 545 mile trek from San Fransisco to Los Angeles for the AIDS/Lifecycle Ride to end AIDS.
However, the couple remarked that they will have to get a lighter bike before they can do that.
Apart from helping with the fight against AIDS the couple has described the experience with Ride for AIDS Chicago as “life altering” because those involved who have been so welcoming and have become true friends.
The event itself exemplified this light hearted and friendly atmosphere. The entire bar gave Paula Basta a rousing birthday cheer and the fundraising raffle participants were entertained by nightclub performer, Cyon Flare.
Much of the excitement, however, came from the teamwork fundraising efforts of Team Cheetah.
Team Cheetah formed in 2010 and rode 200 miles in two days, raising over $27,000. In 2011, the team raised over $62,000 for the Chicago-based AIDS awareness and empowerment organization, making them the third place of all fundraising teams. This year, the team has already raised $22,000 of this year’s goal of $60,000.
Dave Hackett estimated that Thursday’s raffle raised around $1,500 and an additional event, Queening it Out for AIDS, is scheduled for April 18 at T’s.