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Hitting the Road To Fight AIDS: Seventh Minnesota Red Ribbon Ride Gears Up

By Lavender June 4, 2009

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In its seventh year, the Minnesota Red Ribbon Ride (MRRR) hits the road again this July. The four-day, 300-mile journey raises money for seven agencies working to fight HIV/AIDS.

MRRR Executive Director Theresa Fetsch says, “It’s a very lean, one-employee operation. We rely on a lot of volunteers.”

Popular volunteer opportunities, such as crew and pit stop members, are filled in the blink of an eye. The crew works around the clock during the entire event.

Fetsch explains, “These positions fill up quickly. All our pit stops are full right now. I don’t think we’ll ever have a shortage of volunteers.”

Rider registration already has outpaced expectations.

According to Fetsch, “We’re already ahead in rider numbers compared to 2007. The donations may be down, but we’re hoping the donations will follow.”

Each participant, in addition to paying a $75 registration fee, needs to raise $1,500—an ambitious task on its own. But the physical and mental demands of the ride require extensive preparation.

Fetsch states, “The training is the biggest piece.”

MRRR recommends that riders build more miles into each week of training. An event in June, Day on the Ride, simulates a single day of the route, complete with pit stops and first aid. It also serves as a reality check for riders to amp up their current training.

Many participants have found motivation by joining or forming teams.

In Fetsch’s words, “The power is in the numbers. It’s a great support mechanism.”

Besides boosting morale, teams at times help each other out if a member is facing a fund-raising shortfall. The largest team is Team Oz from St. Joan of Arc Church.

Sponsors such as Target and Wells Fargo have teams fund-raising and training for the event. Target is the event’s biggest sponsor, as the company will be the transportation sponsor for this year and next year.

MRRR works with Minnesota AIDS Trek, a ride in September. Riders involved in each participate in training sessions together. The events share equipment like route marking signs, ice chests, and anything else.

Fetsch relates, “We’re all in this together.”

Positive Pedalers, a group of riders who are HIV-positive, had their own team called Positive Spin until last year. Now, riders can identify themselves as Positive Pedalers, but also can join other teams.

Fetsch shares, “Everyone that gets involved with this event has been somehow affected by HIV, whether it’s a relative or a friend who’s passed, or a relative or a friend who’s currently living with the disease, or people just wanting to help the cause. They’re so committed and passionate about what they’re doing.”

While significant changes to the route were made last year, not many are expected this year. Riders still will embark from Mall of America.

However, Fetsch notes, “One notable change is the move of the closing ceremony to the State Capitol.”

Last year’s took place in the parking lot of Richfield High School.

As Fetsch points out, the general public is invited to attend the opening and closing ceremonies: “We want as many people as we can get cheering riders out, and cheering them in.”

In addition to official pit stops, supporters have been known for set up impromptu pit stops.

Fetsch recounts, “There’s a grandmother who gives out Rice Krispie bars on the route.”

No streets are closed for MRRR, but the route coordinator works closely with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and county sheriff’s departments to help ensure a safe ride.

Riders stay overnight in Lake City the first night; Rochester the second night; and Northfield the third night, when a friends and family gathering is held.

One of last year’s speakers for MRRR was Jeanne White-Ginder, Ryan White’s mother.

Fetsch remarks, “That really reminded everyone why we’re doing this.”

This year’s program has not been finalized yet.

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