Each month we profile a hero in the fight against HIV—a researcher working to stop the disease, a staff member improving health in our community, a dedicated donor, or someone living with HIV who's an inspiration to everyone around them. This month we profile Todd Nunn, a second-time rider with AIDS/LifeCycle. The story of why he rides—and how the ride changed his life—is nothing short of inspirational.
When Todd Nunn climbs on his bicycle and rides out of San Francisco on June 2nd, he’ll be thinking of his mother, Claire. Todd is riding in his second AIDS/LifeCycle—a 7-day, 545-mile ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles—to honor her memory, and to help fight the disease that took her life.
Claire Nunn adored her job as a respiratory therapist at Mount Diablo hospital in Concord, California. “She loved helping people. She thought of all of the patients like family,” her son recalls. In the late 1980s, while helping move a patient, Claire suffered a back injury that would eventually lead to three surgeries—and to a blood transfusion that would leave her infected with HIV.
“She was devastated,” recalls Todd, today an officer with the K-9 unit of the Concord Police Department. “There was so much ignorance back then. People thought you could get AIDS from a hug. My mom was afraid people wouldn’t hug her.”
On disability and with a limited income, Claire had to fight to prove she had acquired HIV during surgery for a work-related injury; until then, worker’s compensation would not cover the costs of her medical treatment. Eventually the court found in her favor—but Claire lost her battle with AIDS just one year later, in 1995.
“I am doing this ride in the hope that others will not have to suffer with the same fear, shame, and worry about how they will be able to afford the care and medication they need to stay alive,” Todd explains. The funds he raises will support the programs and services of San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center. “I’ve met so many people on the ride whose lives have been saved by the foundation,” says Todd. “It’s amazing to see people who were diagnosed at the same time my mother was, and they’re still going strong. And many of them are doing the ride!”
For years, Todd kept his mother’s story mostly to himself: “Back then, I didn’t talk about it. She had a fear that if people found out, we’d be ostracized.” When he finally shared her story and his plans to ride in AIDS/LifeCycle, donations and messages of support poured in. Last year Todd raised nearly $6,000 and cycled down the coast to L.A.—and he did it despite recent knee surgery and getting hit by a drunk driver while on duty, just two weeks before the ride.
“Police usually see mostly the negative side of people, on the job,” he muses. “AIDS/LifeCycle has taught me about the kindness of people.” (In a touching twist of fate, Todd’s police dog was donated to the K-9 unit by a mother in memory of her son, who died of cancer.)
In addition to raising awareness and supporting HIV/AIDS programs and services, what was the biggest reward of riding in AIDS/LifeCycle last year? “Just meeting all of the people who have been affected in so many ways.” Todd adds, “It’s a huge community. You go a whole week and you don’t see any grumpy people. You stop to check something in your back pocket, and everyone asks if you’re okay.”
That sense of community brought Todd back for his second ride: “As soon as I went across the finish line last year, I went straight to the tent to sign up for this year.”
What would he say to someone who’s thinking about taking part in AIDS/LifeCycle? “Just do it. I mean, I had so many fears. I didn’t think my knee would hold up, and all of these things. But if you just get out there and you just do it, then the motivation of all of the people just drives you through.”
For example, the second day of last year’s ride brought heavy rain and even hail, and it was Todd’s first time riding a hundred-mile “century” in one day. But by exchanging encouragements with a fellow rider he’d met the night before, he rode on: “We just drove each other through the storm and finished the 100 miles.”
“When they say it’s life-changing, it truly is. It was so life-changing for me to go through that,” Todd says. “But more importantly, you see how it’s life-saving for so many other people.”
Will you join Todd this year on AIDS/LifeCycle, as a rider or a roadie? What has the ride meant to you? If this is your first time as a rider or roadie, what are you looking forward to? Share your messages of support for Todd and all the participants of AIDS/LifeCycle in the comments below…
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