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TPAN/RFAC and Team J Cats

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Every July, for the past 3 years, I have been honored to serve as a member of the moto-safety crew for RFAC/TPAN and their weekend of fundraising and awareness.  If you do not know already – TPAN empowers everyone living with or at risk for HIV/AIDS to live open, healthy, and productive lives. TPAN innovates to deliver peer-led support programs and collaborative wellness services and to communicate comprehensive information. TPAN will do so until HIV/AIDS is eradicated.

This year will be no different – except my good friend Patty Pedroza (AKA PEANUT) will be riding and leading her Team J-Cats over the two day adventure.  I asked Patty to share her story in the hope that we can inspire others and bring more $$ to this amazing organization.

I created Team J-Cats in 2014 when I rode in the Ride for AIDS Chicago for the second time.  I created the team to honor the memory of my brother, Jess, who died of AIDS in December 2002.  He was a protective big brother who once went to my grammar school to report a student who had been bullying and harassing me.

Jess was always the one who provided the laughs and jokes at our family functions. Jess was a proud, gay man who lived his life openly and with pride – except when it came to his disease. He told no one about his illness until we found him collapsed in his apartment, with a high fever.  We checked him into the hospital and that’s when we found out that not only was he HIV positive but he had full blown AIDS.  We were devastated, scared, and did not know how to help him other than to tell him we were there for him and we would get through it.  We truly believed that.   When I asked him why he had not told any of us he was sick he said, “I was afraid that no one would want to talk to me or be around me”.  I think about those words every day.

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During the last days of his life, co-workers, friends, and family members visited him.  We celebrated Christmas in the hospital that year and he passed away on December 29, 2002 at 12:30pm.  Just 11 days after being admitted. I still have the gifts we gave him; still safely stored away. My last words to him were, “see you later”.

This year, many of the participants on my team are doing the ride for the first time.  Two riders on my team, Carmen Sapien and Lupe Cotto are riding in honor of their brother-in-law, Alfredo Cotto.  He died in August 2014.  Both Carmen and Lupe have told me that they miss him dearly and his family still mourns his loss.  This will be Carmen’s fourth year and Lupe’s first year doing the ride.

The name J-Cats is derived from Jess’ first initial and the love he had for his favorite pets; his cats.

This will be my fourth year participating in this event. The Ride for AIDS Chicago has helped my family heal from the loss of my brother.  They have joined me at the closing ceremonies every year and even created a banner to show their pride in the our efforts.  It has been especially helpful for my mom who has even joined me at a few fundraising events. Thanks for reading my story and the story of Jess’ team, The J-Cats.  We’re a proud bunch riding for a great cause.

The RFAC/TPAN ride will happen the weekend of July 9th and 10th. You can help by contributing to Team J-Cat’s Page: http://tpan.convio.net/goto/JCats2016

You can also volunteer your time and energy: http://tpan.convio.net/site/TR?fr_id=1040&pg=entry

About K. Guzman

Kathy grew up all over the US – lots of east coast time. She is a surfer girl with an unabridged curiosity. A woman whose mid life awakening continues to bring her to the place she was meant to be. Her degree in Journalism/Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida is being yanked from the archives and put to good use. Her two kids are grown and rock stars in this wild world – her Harley is ready for some serious summer miles – and her heart remains open to life, women and the possibilities each day brings.

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