A week before some of the world’s elite runners gather in Chicago this Sunday for the annual Bank of America Chicago Marathon, another group gathered on the lakefront for another race.
The emphasis wasn’t on competition, though.
The 11th annual AIDS Run & Walk Chicago, staged in and around Soldier Field last Sunday, was about what’s been lost and what still can be won. Held on a beautiful fall afternoon,
the event sponsored by the AIDS Foundation of Chicago was a time for both reflection and celebration.
The end of the course wound through the mezzanine level of Soldier Field, where runners and walkers passed panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt.
“It was very moving and very emotional for many folks,” AIDS Foundation of Chicago President and CEO David Ernesto Munar said. “It was an emotional capstone for why we’re doing this.”
There were happy moments as well as somber ones, which was pretty much guaranteed with the likes of Wanda Sykes on hand to get the runners and walkers started. Michael Feinstein and Jamar Rogers of “The Voice” also provided entertainment, making the event a more value-added proposition for the 4,500-plus participants and spectators on hand.
“People treasure their weekends and their Sunday mornings, so we’re asking a lot for people to come out,” Munar said.
The venue and day of the week were new, moved from Grant Park – which five days of rain turned into a swamp for last year’s event – and Saturday. Soldier Field wasn’t available on a Saturday this year, but the chance to host the run and walk in such an iconic Chicago venue was too good to pass up.
“It was a great location, it was easier to get to,” Munar said. “We had beautiful downtown skyline views for our runners and walkers.”
And at the end of the course was a chance to get tested for HIV, an opportunity 77 people took advantage of.
“There was a renewed effort to bring this back to the cause,” AIDS Foundation of Chicago Staff Writer/Communications Manager Gregory Trotter said. “We were very intentional about that with the AIDS Quilt and testing.”
The focus was two-fold: financial and educational.
The event raised around $375,000 for AFC and 35 other organizations it partners with to provide services to people with HIV.
“We’re still in [economic recovery], as everyone is well aware,” Munar said. “That’s been especially hard on some of our disabled, low-income clients who have seen some of their services whittled away. That’s why private giving is important.”
Equally important is getting the message out that while AIDS-related deaths are down – from around 50,000 in 1995 to about 14,000 – the rate of new infections have not declined. The good news is that people with HIV are living longer; the bad news is that there are more of them who need services like those offered by AFC and its partner agencies. AFC figures indicate there are around 25,000 people in Chicago infected with HIV.
“Only about one in two AIDS-infected people are getting the clinical care they need,” Munar said.
So the need for fundraisers like the AIDS Run & Walk isn’t going away anytime soon. According to Munar, neither is the event.
“We’re already thinking about next year,” he said. “We’re constantly learning. We want to build on this success.”
It’s that rare race that’s a win-win proposition for everyone: both the participants and those people who will get potentially life-saving care funded by the money raised by those runners and walkers.