These statements certainly evoke thoughts of bar exams and articling, but also accurately describe our experience as participants in this year’s Friends For Life Bike Rally. On July 24, we joined over 400 cyclists and support crew at Queen’s Park in Toronto, where we began a six-day, 600-kilometre journey to Montreal in support of the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation.
PWA promotes the health and well-being of people living with HIV-AIDS by providing support services, including income support, food, treatment, and health-promotion programs. The bike rally is PWA’s annual fundraiser and this year’s ride raised over $1.2 million for the organization.
Much like articling, the rally is a challenging but unspeakably rewarding experience, full of personal growth, emotion, and the chance to meet amazing people. It also provided us with an adventurous getaway before starting our articles at Heenan Blaikie LLP, as well as an opportunity to get in shape, visit new places, and contribute to an amazing cause.
Looking back, cycling over 600 kilometres in six days was the easy part. On the other hand, raising the minimum $2,200 in pledges and spending our weekends completing the necessary training rides — all while studying for bar exams — proved to be a difficult balancing act.
Fortunately, the support we received from family, friends, and colleagues was overwhelming. The energy the organizers and our fellow participants shared with us carried us through all obstacles. As a result, waking up at 6:30 a.m. on Saturdays to attend training rides wasn’t so bad, in fact the breaks from reading and indexing bar exam materials were more than welcome.
Similarly, the seemingly daunting fundraising requirement proved to be no match for the support we received. Once word spread of our efforts, we quickly exceeded the $2,200 minimum. By the time the rally began we raised a total of $6,325, with about one-third donated by our generous colleagues at Heenan Blaikie.
En route to Montreal, we spent our evenings in Port Hope, Adolphustown, Kingston, Johnstown, and Lancaster, Ont. Four nights were spent camping in tent cities, whereas Kingston provided dormitories. Our belongings were transferred from site to site by truck, food crew provided us with meals and snacks, and riders were offered free transportation home by VIA Rail. With all of the logistics taken care of, we had plenty of time to bond with fellow riders and crew at camp.
The scenery along the route was truly breathtaking — Prince Edward County, the 1000 Islands, and the St. Lawrence River in particular. Most days also had a theme: Day 3 was red dress day where participants were encouraged to wear red outfits; Day 4 was Disney day where riders and crew dressed as their favourite Disney characters; and Day 5 was poz day where participants living with HIV were invited to self-identify by wearing a red-ribbon T-shirt to foster a safe, stigma-free space to be HIV-positive.
The most moving experience of the week was the candlelight ceremony to remember those for whom we were riding. Riders and crew were given the opportunity to share stories about how HIV has touched their lives. The stories were mostly uplifting, but often very sad. Whatever progress we can celebrate, we were reminded that HIV-related stigma is just as biting and misplaced as ever, and that so much work is still necessary to ensure the well-being of those in our community who live with HIV. We were touched by the stories of our peers and reminded why the rally is still so important.
For Ryan, the rally represented a rare chance to break out of a busy life and do something amazing. If there was one word to describe the experience, it would be freeing. Almost immediately, all sense of time was lost and worries melted away, replaced by celebrations of daily achievements, good times with new friends, and a deeper understanding about an ailment still shrouded in stigma. Further, as a novice cyclist, going from “afraid to cross streetcar tracks” to fearlessly riding to Montreal was quite fulfilling. Certainly, the memory of the Divers/Cité’s giant soundstage and cheering crowds that greeted us in Montreal is one that will never be forgotten.
For Greg, the rally was both moving and assuring. Simply put, it was inspiring to be part of a group of people committing so much time, energy, and income in support of our peers who still face so many barriers to accessing services, tolerance, equal treatment, and justice.
A law student’s “summers of freedom” before graduating law school, articling, and being called to the bar are few and precious. Many lawyers will agree that before we begin our challenging careers in law, it’s important to make the most of the time we’re given. Some students travel overseas; we did the Friends for Life Bike Rally.
The rally was a remarkable, unforgettable journey and we look forward to participating again in future years (and we hope to see some of you on the road as well!).
To learn more about PWA, visit pwatoronto.org. For more information about the rally or to register for the 2012 ride, visit bikerally.org. To ask about their experiences, feel free to contact Ryan at REdmonds@heenan.ca and Greg at GMcLean@heenan.ca, both of whom are graduates of Osgoode Hall Law School and currently articling at Heenan Blaikie LLP this year.