Written by Ashley Dier | Academy of Lions Media Team | Toronto 

How does going out for ice cream lead to a 600km bike ride from Toronto to Montreal?  For Academy of Lions members Kerri and Kelly all it took was a little frozen dairy courage, friendly conversation and a local watering hole for everything to fall into place. When they headed out for ice cream last summer, neither Kerri nor Kelly, had any idea what they would agree to by sundown.

"Last summer we started to really get into cycling," Kerri remembers. "We went to Port Credit for ice cream, came back into town and went to the Old York for beer. I had come across this ride and was trying to rope her (Kelly) into doing it for a while, but she refused. So we're talking about it on the patio and the waitress overheard us, she had done the ride the year before and was like 'you HAVE to do it'. We were there for there for like 2 hours and she wouldn't stop talking about it. Then Kelly was like "fuck it, I'll do it" and that's where it kinda started," Kerri said.

Just what did the two agree to do? Kerri and Kelly had decided to sign up for and ride the PWA Friends for Life Bike Rally - a 300km ride from Toronto to Montreal spread over six days beginning July 24. The Friends for life Rally is the sustaining fundraiser for the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation (PWA). The ride is difficult, mentally and physically challenging and incredibly emotional. Riders will camp out the majority of the nights (beds and showers await them in Kingston) with the gear they brought along in their two Rubbermaid containers. Kelly, new to camping is particularly apprehensive about a campsite dubbed "spider town". The ride is entirely crewed by volunteers (RMT, wellness, mechanics) and many of the campsites along the way have been donated.

It was a ride to Niagara Falls last summer that sparked the idea, Kelly remembers thinking "let's do this bigger and longer next year". For Kelly it was the sense of accomplishment she'll experience when upon arriving in Montreal that drew her to finally agreeing. For Kerri the connection is more personal, she lost a cousin to AIDS and sees this ride as a way to inform the public about and give back to the community.

Kelly remembers being particularly affected after a tour of the center. "People were talking about how the center and the money raised from this ride had impacted their lives, the stories people had were unbelievable, it was pretty awesome." "A lot of people aren't educated when it comes to AIDS and there are a lot of misconceptions, at the meeting people kept telling us that during the ride as we go through a lot of the town's, people come up and ask questions, so it's also really about awareness," Kerri said.  

The remarkable thing about this ride, is the the Toronto People Living With AIDS Foundation receives most of its yearly funding from this ride (Upwards of 40%). Each rider must raise a minimum of $2500 to be order to participate, all of which goes back to the foundation. The Toronto People With AIDS Foundation supports people in Toronto and the GTA who are living with HIV/AIDS. This non-profit, direct service organization supports this community in so many incredible ways including (but not limited to):

  • pay for non-insured prescriptions
  • supplying vitamins and fresh veggies to stay healthy
  • connect the HIV/AIDS community with government services and support networks
  • helping patients care for their pets while they are ill or in hospital
  • stay in touch with the community by providing access to cultural events
  • supplying holiday hampers
  • supplying gifts for HIV positive children at Christmas

Last year PWA helped over 8,000 people in Toronto with these and other services and is the largest direct service provider for people living with HIV/AIDS in Canada. PWA is essential, and both Kerri and Kelly have been drawn in by the incredible community and passionate people involved in both the ride and at the foundation.

With the ride less than 40 days away both Kerri and Kelly are buzzing with excitement. Both are little unsure of what exactly what they will experience but a present is a general understanding that it will be something incredible. When I asked how they're both feeling Kerri replied with "I'm super excited," and Kelly "I'm terrified." It's that mix of nervousness and excitement that will carry them through the six days of riding, balancing each other out along the way. As they set out for Montreal on July 24h one thing is for certain, it will be an incredible experience.

To donate and help Kerri and Kelly on their journey click HERE for Kelly's fundraising page and HERE for Kerri's. Every little bit helps :)

To learn more about the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation and all the amazing work they do for people in the GTA click HERE.

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