Thursday, November 15, 2012

The SMART Ride of their lives

Posted By on Thu, Nov 15, 2012 at 2:05 PM

Leah Payne and the Erase Hate Tampa Bay team ride to raise funds for HIV/AIDS organizations this weekend.
  • Leah Payne and the Erase Hate Tampa Bay team ride to raise funds for HIV/AIDS organizations this weekend.
Hundreds of cyclists descend upon Miami this weekend, Friday, Nov. 16 and Saturday, Nov. 17. They'll be riding their bikes from Miami to Key West with one goal in mind: to raise money for Florida-based HIV/AIDS organizations.

For the last nine years, SMART Ride — an acronym for Southern Most AIDS Ride — has brought together cycling and AIDS advocates from around the state and beyond. The best part is all the money raised goes directly to local organizations.

"The beauty of the money distributed to these agencies is that it goes directly to help individuals who need assistance," said Leah Payne, a member of SMART Ride's Board of Directors and the Erase Hate Tampa Bay team. "The money doesn't go to research or into a black hole where no one ever knows what is happening. We know, and as riders we have some level of control over where our fundraising dollars are distributed."

Half of the funds raised are equally distributed among a group of designated agencies throughout Florida — Metro Wellness here in Tampa Bay, Comprehensive AIDS program in Palm Beach, Children's Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Fort Lauderdale, Pride Center in South Florida, Center for Positive Connections in South Florida, AIDS Help in Key West, and Miracle of Love in Central Florida — and the other half is selected by each individual rider. To date, SMART Ride has distributed over $3.3 million, Payne said. And all the money has gone directly to services for the HIV/AIDS community.

Over two days, cyclists ride 165 miles. They start from Miami and ride to Duck Key by the first night, staying at the Hawks Cay Resort. They leave Duck Key the next morning and end the ride in Key West with closing ceremonies at the White Street Pier, where the Key West AIDS Memorial stands.

"Closing ceremonies are very touching, as we all reflect why we ride," said Payne, a part of the organization since the inaugural ride, who said she was inspired to get involved after seeing how living with the disease affected her best friend. "Our fundraising total is announced [at the closing ceremonies] and a riderless bike is walked in through the crowd to help us all remember those who have been lost to this horrible disease." This year, Payne will walk the riderless bike into the ceremony.

There are several Tampa Bay teams heading to Miami for the two-day ride, including ones from Metro Wellness and St. Pete Pride in addition to the Erase Hate riders. So far, Payne says Erase Hate has raised about $16,000. "But we're a bit shy of our goal," she said. It's not too late to donate, though. You can still go online to enter your donations for Erase Hate Tampa Bay team, which is team 989, or any of the other teams participating.

Visit the SMART Ride website for more information.

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