Walking 10k toward awareness for AIDS

I awoke on the day of the AIDS Walk at 5:30 a.m., what I refer to as “an ungodly hour.”

I walked outside of my house a few minutes after 6:00 a.m., and it was still dark enough to see the stars, but by the time I reached the University Student Union at about 6:40 a.m., dawn was starting to highlight the horizon.

The few people I saw from a distance were like shadows, which became much clearer and numerous when I crossed the street.

There were many people there who would comprise the main team, Team CSUN, and smaller teams. People were also in lines to receive Team CSUN bandanas and bagels and fruit juices for breakfast.

Winds raged and tore branches from nearby trees, blowing bandanas off of people’s heads and across the plaza.

People started to line up at 7 a.m. near four yellow school buses.

Some people were boarding the buses to find shelter from the winds, tying their bandanas onto their arms or legs. No two people seem to display their Team CSUN pride exactly the same way.

Twenty-five minutes later, the buses began to depart as stragglers were boarding a blue charter bus parked in the G4 parking lot.

The buses didn’t seem full. I was hopeful that the number of Team CSUN members would increase at the drop-off point at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood.

At about 8:15 a.m., people started to exit buses.

It wasn’t as windy in Hollywood as it was in Northridge, and it was pleasant weather in which to walk.

As more people arrived in buses, more Team CSUN members showed up.

Everyone started heading toward West Hollywood Park, where the opening ceremonies would be held.

Some people split off from everyone else to sign in at the Green Walkers area, reserved for people who raised money online. People had to find their spot at the enormous Wachovia-sponsored sign-in area.

There was enough room in which to walk around despite all the people who showed up to participate.

There were 362 registered walkers with Team CSUN, 38 less people than showed up last year, but Team CSUN still managed to raise $5,846, making it one of the top 50 fundraising teams and organizations.

More people showed up when celebrities such as Faith Ford and T.R. Knight began to speak.

At 10 a.m. the walk began.

It was gratifying to have volunteers, disc jockeys and sponsors cheering on the sidelines for walkers. It inspired the UCLA and CSU Long Beach walking teams to start a rally cry of their own as they walked.

On the first half of the walk, I saw a lot of people standing out of the lane reserved for walkers, holding signs that show ” Homo Sex is Still a Sin!” They yelled, “turn back now” and “accept Jesus.”

Most walkers ignored them and continued to walk. But I saw a few walkers who looked disappointed, though I wasn’t sure if they were disappointed with themselves or with the people who were using bullhorns to call them sinners.

At 11:00 a.m., Team CSUN walkers arrived at the second checkpoint, where there was Naked Juice and cookies being served in the courtyard of a school. People gathered around this area to relax for a few minutes.

My feet were starting to feel as though they were burning and my calves were sore. But I decided I wouldn’t quit, as I’d walked more than 10 kilometers as a tourist.

Team CSUN then turned on Melrose Avenue, the last stretch of the walk.

Police cars started to drive up and down a single lane reserved for vehicular traffic, looking for parents of missing children. I never found out whether they found the missing children’s parent, but I hope they did.

A few minutes before 1 p.m., I crossed under the threshold of orange, yellow, and blue balloons – the finish line.

There was a lot of people, paper, plastic and booths promoting summer camps for children with AIDS in West Hollywood Park.

It was an exhausting 10 kilometers with only three checkpoints, but all the volunteers were very supportive, helping to hand out water bottles and so much more.

Not far from the awards tent, a crowd of people was staring at several pieces of paper taped to the side of a brick building.

The papers listed the names of people who lost their personal battle with AIDS. Several people struggled forward to write a name on the wall. Other people stood back and cried as more names were taped to the brick building.

At 1:15 p.m., a school bus arrived at the Pacific Design Center, where exhausted Team CSUN walkers were waiting.

People formed lines immediately next to the bus, and there were no complaints when someone cut in line because everyone was so tired.

As the bus full of tired walkers moved its way into the street, incoming walkers blocked its way. As the bus again moved forward, it nearly hits the back of a police car, which is blocking the way home.

There was no air conditioning on the buses. All the windows were open, but the passengers were still hot.

A police deputy boarded the bus and asked if anyone aboard is less than 18 years old. Passengers still have to sit and wait for him to write a report in either event.

I sat there on that hot bus with sunburned skin because I only applied sunscreen to my face. My arms were itchy, but my exhaustion prevented me from scratching my skin.

Another deputy later asked people in the front rows on one side of the bus their names and their ages. After a few people answered his questions, we’re finally allowed to go home.

We finally made it back to the campus at 2 p.m., and it was everyone for themselves, but for a while, we were a cohesive unit with a common goal, and that made me smile even as my sunburned skin itched and my feet ached.

AIDS is a disease that’s indiscriminate, affecting men and women, adults and children, straight and gay people. And you wouldn’t know that someone had AIDS unless they told you or you read about it in an obituary.

I’ve never known anyone with AIDS, and I hope anyone I know doesn’t contract the disease. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

But there are millions of people out there who didn’t wish for it and are still living with AIDS everyday, and the disease is only becoming more resistant.

One of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, Merck ‘ Co., recently halted their clinical trials of V520, a would-be AIDS vaccine, after an independent monitoring board found the it to be ineffective.

Because of HIV’s persistent mutations, trying to find a vaccine against it or AIDS is incredibly difficult. It’s for this reason that I chose to walk, and why I’ll walk again.

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