Browsing Category: Team To End AIDS

Triumph and Teamwork

By Rob Banaszak, Communications Director, AIDS United

Picture this…Chicago…October 7, 2012. The weather is brisk and chilly but the autumn day is crisp and lovely. More than 40,000 runners are in their “corrals,” jumping up and down, stretching, chatting, praying — all anxiously awaiting the moment when they will begin to run. And run and run and run. 26.2 miles.

The Chicago Marathon.

The clock starts and the runners are off! A sea of neon headbands and jackets and tank tops and tights and shoes, all moving to the hypnotic beat of rubber shoes hitting the pavement like a metronome. Pum pum pum pum pum pum pum.

Forty five thousand runners, weaving through skyscrapers one moment, then 30 minutes later a tree-lined park, then 30 minutes after that, wonderful neighborhoods, like Lincoln Park, and Wrigleyville, and Boystown, and Greektown and Chinatown…then snaking back into the gleaming city…

People lining the streets cheering with posters and shouts of encouragement and water and Gatorade and bananas and vaseline (non-runners must imagine for themselves what that might be for).

The energy. The determination. The exhilaration. The triumph!

And the triumph was more than just about my running results (which had significantly improved since my first marathon last year!).  The triumph also was a victory in the fight for an AIDS-free America. You see, I have run my first two marathons as part of AIDS United’s Team to End AIDS program, an endurance training program that raises awareness of the HIV epidemic in the United States by raising funds to support life-saving HIV/AIDS prevention and care programs across the country.

As a participant in the Team to End AIDS Program (or T2 as we affectionately call it at AIDS United), I not only had to commit to the training program that would lead me to the promised land of marathon-finishing, but also had to commit to raising funds to support the work of AIDS United, which is not only my employer but is also an organization near and dear to my heart. I am one of nearly 300 people who trained to run in one of several marathons or triathlons, and who also collectively raised more than thousands of dollars to help end AIDS in the United States.

When we raised money for our sponsorships, we raised awareness about HIV in our country with the generous family and friends who supported us.

When we trained wearing our T2 training gear throughout the summer we raised awareness about HIV with all those we encountered on the streets and running trails.

While we wore our special running tank tops that were created just for our marathon events, we raised awareness about HIV with our fellow runners and with all who stood on the sidelines cheering us on.

Team to End AIDS is truly that — a team. But we who have worked so hard to train for our respective events have become much more than that. We have become a family. We support each other, we encourage each other, we push each other, and we celebrate each other.

With that kind of teamwork, we can — and we will — end AIDS in America.

And that’s the team I want to be on!

Proving My Strength, and Coming Back for More!

by Lawrence Bernal,
Team to End AIDS Athlete

Last year was my 10th year of living with HIV and I had decided to do something just to prove how strong I was. I had decided to run a marathon. As I was thinking this I was flip’n through the Washington Post Express and had came across the T2 ad. Talk about divine intervention. I got online and signed up for the Chicago Marathon and there was no turning back. I now had 1000 more reasons on why I needed to finish what I was about to start and didn’t even know it.

It was such a great feeling of knowing that I wasn’t alone. Knowing that I wasn’t the only one dreading getting up at 6:00 AM just to go running and actually looking forward to it. Knowing that I wasn’t the only one who was having aches and pains from the previous weeks run. Knowing not to worry if I had forgotten my “goo”  because your running mates always brought extra.  Knowing that we were all doing this for one common goal. Helping those in need and fighting AIDS.

So this year I’m back and have decided to make the goal extra sweet. I’m not only running the Chicago Marathon, but also the Honolulu Marathon and the Luray Triathlon. I know you’re thinking I’m crazy, but after several months of training you start making connections. You start making friends. You have literally joined an extended family and what’s crazy is NOT coming back and being part of something special and fighting the great fight!

So, until there is no longer a need or until there is a cure I’ll be back year after year. Running for myself. Running for those who can’t and running for those we have lost.

Can’t wait to see old faces and meet some new ones. See you out on the course.

Guest Blog: Why I Trained with Team to End AIDS, and How I Kept Going During the Marine Corps Marathon!

by Tera Eilers

Tera EilersMy father Eric was definitely the inspiration to train for the Marine Corps Marathon with Team to End AIDS (T2). Five years ago I lost him to AIDS after his 20-year battle with the disease. I had been looking for a way to honor his memory for awhile and T2 seemed like the perfect fit. When I first started distance running and I would visit him, we would go to this pretty city park in Springfield, Illinois that had a great one mile loop. At this time, he was too ill to actually run or jog with me, but he would find a bench on the loop and cheer me on and hand out water or hold my cell phone. He was great and my biggest cheer leader. I knew if anyone would be proud of me for running a marathon it would be him.

During race day, every time that I felt like things were getting tough, the first thing that I did was put a hand over my heart where I had a folded picture of my father pinned to my singlet. Just remembering why I started this journey and what I was doing it for kept one foot in front of the other. Also, I can’t forget to mention my T2 Teammates! I can honestly say that there really was not one point where I hit a wall or said “I can’t do this anymore.” We had so much fun together interacting with each other and with the crowd…it was truly a FUN experience.

The biggest highlight of T2 was the people I met and the friendships that I made. Our pace group, The Teglas, was completely amazing. I don’t think that I have ever met a more supportive, encouraging, compassionate and motivated group of people in my life. We got through a lot together and made some really lasting relationships…and the best part is that we all came from different walks of life. What a beautiful compliment to an outstanding organization.

Tera Eilers is Resilience Program Manager with the United States Army

Team Chicago Checks In!

By Wandalyn Savala

It’s been a busy quarter for Team Chicago. After AIDS United training in Ann Arbor, we quickly got to work in the Chi. Our team of nine serves with eight agencies in the city: Broadway Youth Center, Test Positive Aware Network, Chicago House, Southside Help Center, Howard Brown, Heartland Alliance, The Night Ministry, and Project Vida. Our work connects us with youth, homeless individuals, persons who identify as LGBTQI, people struggling to make ends meet, and people new to the world of service providers and case managers. Every day we see how HIV is truly a city-wide issue.

Our primary task is to provide HIV testing to those who visit our agencies, but often we become a part of our clients’ emotional and social support networks. With the life changes that can come with being “at-risk” for contracting HIV or living with HIV, how could we not? It was no surprise, then, when one of our teammates began crocheting hats for homeless individuals they work with in anticipation of the winter months.

Of course, emotional and social support goes beyond meeting the needs of the people we serve. Support also means celebrating successes. In September and October, we did just that by volunteering at the Chicago Half Marathon and the AIDS Walk. Both events raised money for HIV service organizations so that they – and we – can continue the work we do in all parts of the city. As we cheered on the Team2End AIDS, we marveled at how one good, “GOOOOO TEAM!” helped runners make it through the finish line.

It’s November now. We’re in the thick of our service year, but far from the end. (A fact that we’re constantly reminded of as the temperatures drop, and our first Chicago winter looms near.) Whenever we can, we’re at trainings, conferences, and meetings to enhance our knowledge about the epidemic. We know that HIV, what we know about it, and how we can fight it is constantly evolving. Accordingly, we prep ourselves as much as possible. As 2011 winds down, look forward to more blog postings about what we’ve been up to since August, and what we look forward to doing from now until June.

Wandalyn Savala is a member of AIDS United Team Chicago. Follow Team Chicago on Twitter @AIDS_U_CHITOWN and ‘like’ us on Facebook.

Am I mad for signing up to train for a marathon?

by Rob Banaszak, AIDS United Communications Officer & Team to End AIDS Participant

It is the day before our first training run for the Team to End AIDS training program.  Just three miles tomorrow.  Piece of cake, right?  I think I have what I need.  My awesome new running shoes (the most I have ever paid for athletic shoes), my gear belt, water bottle and i.d. tag.  I have had some really great short runs and cross training throughout this week.  I am about halfway to my fundraising goal.  As Jodie Foster’s character Dr. Ellie Arroway says in the movie Contact when she is in the spaceship about to be sent into the depths of space, “I’m okay to go.”

But as this Friday afternoon draws to a close, I feel my heart starting to beat a little faster when I think about the journey I am about to embark on.

Let me start by saying that I have always had the idea of running in a marathon in the back of my head.  I have run most of my adult life, but it was basically as the cardio component to my daily workout.  Two to three miles a day, 15 miles a week TOPS.  Though I did the first DC AIDS Ride back in the late 90’s, which was transformational, running an endurance event just didn’t seem like a possibility.  I was never a long-distance runner, so never really thought that running in a marathon was a REAL possibility, despite my musings about it.

Then a few years back my husband and I became acquainted with a man whom I will call Joe.  He was a man in his late 50s or early 60s.  A kind and gentle soul, who, soon after we met him, got very sick with some sort of ailment – not even sure what it was – that made him swell and caused him pain and nearly killed him.  So sad, right?

Except flash forward about a year after this happened, and Joe had fully recovered.  And not only fully recovered, but was training to run in the Marine Corps Marathon.  And then started training for Boston, and New York, and  other marathons AROUND THE WORLD.  It was one of the most inspiring life transformations I have ever witnessed.

So that really got me thinking…if JOE could do it at his age and after his nearly-fatal illness, SURELY I could run in a marathon!

Did I do anything about it at the time?  Nope.

Flash forward a few more years.  I am now in my 40s.  And now I have friends here in DC that are regular marathoners.  For them, doing the Marine Corps marathon every year – as well as other various races — is second nature. And now I’m starting to feel that nagging thought again that I should try this.

It is January 2010.  I have joined the National AIDS Fund (now AIDS United) as Communications Officer.   I have decided somehow that I really need to find a marathon to run. So I go online to check out the only marathon training program I can recall, working in HIV/AIDS and all.  The National AIDS Marathon training program.  Except that it no longer exists.

Oh well.

Then at the end of 2010, National AIDS Fund decides to launch Team to End AIDS in DC.  T2, as it is abbreviated, is a fundraising endurance training program developed by AIDS Foundation of Chicago a few years back.  And T2 DC’s training program will train you to — guess what?  Why, run in the Marine Corps Marathon, of course!

It’s  January, 2011. National AIDS Fund has become AIDS United and AIDS United’s first announcement as a new organization is the launch of T2.  I am the communications person in charge of promoting this launch.  The money raised by participants will benefit my organization.  I have been thinking about running in a marathon on and off for years and years.


Well of course I did.  In fact, I, and my colleague Suzanne (who is an endurance athlete), are the very first two people to sign up for T2 DC.

Which brings me to this place at 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon, and the eve of our first training run.  My heart is racing because of my anxiety for tomorrow.  Oh, and because the caffeine is kicking in from my late afternoon dirty chai (chai latte with espresso, in case you were wondering).   And all I can do to calm myself down is return to my preparedness, my longtime desire to see if I could run a marathon, and all the ways that the Universe aligned to lead me to a program that will train me to complete the event while raising money for my amazing organization.

“I’m okay to go!”