Heroes in the Fight: Meet Sasha and David

Last Father’s Day, David Madfes received an unexpected gift: His daughter, Sasha, signed him up to ride 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles in AIDS/LifeCycle 2014. “He said he’d only do it if I did it with him!” Sasha says, so this year, father and daughter are riding together.

Weekends find them sharing the road on training rides, but Sasha and David have rather different—and very personal—inspirations for riding. “I have a lot of friends who are HIV positive. AIDS/LifeCycle is a good cause,” says Sasha, who volunteered as a “roadie” on last year’s ride. It has also given her a new way to maintain her own health: “I lost 100 pounds about six years ago, and this gives me opportunities to exercise. It’s a different type of workout than sitting on a bike at the gym or doing a spin class. I’m riding for personal challenge.”

David, at age 71, is returning to a much-loved hobby. “I was actually a Boy Scout cycling merit badge counselor!” he says. “But I hung up my bike 15 or 16 years ago and hadn’t been on it since.” Back in his cycling days, the former high school teacher and contractor dreamed of completing the San Francisco–to–Los Angeles ride. “I knew people who died of AIDS,” he recalls. “Several teachers I worked with in the past, we lost them.”

This year, biking has helped him cope with his own losses and life changes. “I lost my wife, Tania, in March. I also retired from work,” he explains. “The first ride I went on was just a couple of miles, and it felt good to be back on the bike, just getting out in the daytime and only thinking about the potholes in the road and where the next hill is.”

How do family and friends respond to David’s return to cycling? “‘Oh, you’re marvelous! I can’t imagine doing that as a 71-year-old!’” he quotes with a smile. “The distances seem daunting,” he acknowledges. “I start saying I’m going to ride 100-mile days, and they think, ‘Oh no, that’s way beyond anything I could do.’ But it’s not,” David insists. “It’s going to be a long day, and you’re going to take four 25-mile rides!”

David and Sasha have tackled fundraising with similar gusto. “It’s turned into a competition between us,” Sasha says with a grin. Both have ranked among the top ten Northern California fundraisers, with Sasha currently in the lead. “The fundraising has actually been fun,” David says, recounting a recent training ride that found a large group of cyclists converging on a beachside café. “There was this couple sitting on a bench, and they got descended upon by 40 bikers. I walked over and talked to them, and by the time it was finished, they’d given me a donation!”

Father and daughter, both proud members of Team Mary, are relishing the friendly competition, both in raising funds and on the road. “Usually he’s way ahead of me,” Sasha laughs. “He’s like, ‘I’ll see you at home!’ He’s way faster than me. But we’ve really been enjoying doing the training rides together.” David concurs: “Cycling has brought us even closer together. I think it’s made our relationship a lot stronger.”

Someone who isn’t so happy with the pair’s shared training regimen? Sasha’s dog, Lady. “I put the helmet on, and she’s like, ‘OK, now I don’t get to go anywhere today!’” But Sasha’s hooked—and she has words of encouragement for new riders: “Don’t assume you have to be a great cyclist and be totally in shape. Anybody can train for this; over time, you get in shape. And the training ride leaders are so supportive.”

Both are looking forward to their first “century”: a 100-mile training ride along the shore of Lake Tahoe. “That’s in May. If we’re not ready for that one, we’re in real trouble!” David jokes. “Riding has kept me fit,” he adds. “This is a real personal accomplishment, to have ridden those 545 miles on your bicycle. But I’ll keep riding even after this is all over.”

Be your own hero: Register today as a rider, a roadie, or a “Virtual Cyclist” and help raise awareness and funds to support the work of San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center. You can also join the foundation’s own team: Team SFAF! Click here to register, search for Team SFAF, and then use the special discount code “TEAMSFAF” to get $32 off the registration fee. It’s that easy!  

Inspired by David and Sasha’s story? Give them some words of encouragement in the comments below.

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