Biking against AIDS

543 miles. Seven days. One recumbent trike. Here’s English teacher Jennifer Chalew’s journey to help stop Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

To raise money in the fight against AIDS, Chalew will participate in the annual AIDS LifeCycle bike trip from June 5-11, 2016 beginning in San Francisco and ending in Los Angeles. All funds go to both the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) center.

“It’s a worthwhile cause. Probably the biggest rise in AIDS is among teenagers, so I want to make that awareness to them that it’s still a disease they can get and to be careful,” Chalew said. “I absolutely recommend [the ride] to my students if they can do it.”

AIDS is a chronic and potentially life threatening condition caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Since HIV interferes with and damages the immune system, the body is unable to defend against infections and various diseases.

“Since I’m a teacher of teenagers that kind of bothers me a bunch. Even though people don’t necessarily die from AIDS like they used to, I feel the awareness has waned. People still need to be aware of the disease. It’s a horrible stigma,” Chalew said.

About 20 years ago, one of Chalew’s cousins who worked for Scholastic Books died of AIDS. When she was younger, Chalew received boxes of books from him. Their relationship inspired her to participate in AIDS LifeCycle.

“I was devastated. He was one of my favorite cousins. I guess we can blame him for me being an English teacher,” Chalew said. “He was a really good guy, and it was hard because he died a horrible, horrible death.”

In preparation for the 543 mile bike ride, Chalew has been training for her recumbent trike since the summer of 2015, biking between 50-70 miles per week. The AIDS LifeCycle group also provides training rides every month all across California. Through the training rides, participants learn safety regulations and procedures, understand how to ride with a group of other cyclists and gain experience through practice.

“I think it’s great. They have many people who volunteer. As one of the slowest riders around, I always have somebody keeping me company. Their motto is ‘No riders left behind,’ so there’s always someone that has to ride behind me,” Chalew said.

In total, there are 5200 participants: 3000 riders and 1200 roadies who are responsible for setting up camps, providing food and escorting riders safely through the routes. Cyclists meander along plots of farmland, miles of beaches, remote areas and several hills. Out of the 3000 cyclists, Chalew is the only one to use a recumbent trike, a bicycle in which the rider sits in a reclined position.

“I feel like the Lone Ranger. I love it. When you’re on a road bike, you’re always staring at the ground, and you can’t help it [when] your head is down. But in a recumbent trike, I’m in a reclined position, and I actually see stuff. It’s very easy to maneuver. It’s very stable,” Chalew said.

Besides the trike’s maneuverability and stability, it performs well on elevated terrain.  Chalew also chose the trike since the reclined seat helps alleviate her shoulder, neck and forearm pain. At the conclusion of the seventh day, the cyclists are welcomed by family and friends at the Closing Ceremonies Site at the Veteran Affairs Center in Los Angeles.

“To ride 543 miles is a huge accomplishment. The best thing about this ride is it gives me an exercise goal. I always need a goal to do anything, and this has given me that goal to get out, exercise, and make myself feel better,” Chalew said.

Her current fundraising goal is $3000, and she has already received $2300 in donations and $140 from recyclables collected by her students.

“The coolest thing is I’m getting the students involved. I had a parent come in and tell me that he was really happy I was doing this for such a worthwhile cause, and the kids are becoming more and more aware of it,” Chalew said.

Chalew’s next goal is to bike across the United States. Already, she has spent two weeks in Florida riding along old railway lines, biked from Ventura to Ojai and traveled through Orange County. She also bicycled in Los Angeles a few weeks ago.

“I think it’s kind of cool that I’m almost 50 years old and still able to do a thing like that,” Chalew said. “[I] may have gray hair on the roof, but I looked in the mirror, and I still see a 20-year-old.”

For more information or to support Ms. Chalew,  visit

By Phillip Leung, Staff writer

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Chalew