The Mack Pack

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Leader of the Pack
Using the Power of Social Media, AIDS Activist Jack Mackenroth Assembles a Team for Braking AIDS & Beyond
by Chael Needle

Martone Red Bike web

Photo by Tyler Cheevers Gomes/TCGFOTOGRAPHY.COM

With one click, Jack Mackenroth has turned selfies into an act of selflessness.

For a donation to his Braking AIDS Ride fundraising campaign, he will snap himself with your name or handle scrawled across his hubba-hubba physique and post it on his social media channels: Twitter: @ jackmackenroth has 107,000 followers; Instagram: @jackmackenroth has 20,000; and FaceBook: www.facebook.com/jackmackenrothfanpage and four others on the same site boast 250,000 combined.

He’s also ongoingly recruiting a team for the Ride and future events dubbed The Mack Pack (#TheMackPack in social-media-land). Jack’s goal with The Mack Pack is to “gather a group of social media savvy [individuals] who want to be part of a socially conscious ‘club’ where we choose events and causes—primarily HIV-centric—to be a part of and put our energy behind,” he explains. The Braking AIDS Ride is the Pack’s first event and, so others can share in the journey, he is documenting the training process on social media, as they gear up for the 285- mile Boston-to-New York bicycle ride on September 12–14, 2014. He will continue documenting as they make the triumphant trek.

Jack has set a personal goal of $50,000, the individual fundraising record (to follow his and the team’s progress or to make a donation, log on to http://bit.ly/jackmack). Braking AIDS proceeds go to Housing Works, a New York City-based organization tackling the interrelated crises of homelessness and HIV. Funds will help provide lifesaving ser- vices to nearly 4,000 individuals living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.

With his leading-man looks and sincere dedication to the cause, it’s easy to see why he gets speedometers racing and blood pumping back to the heart. Since his stint on Project Runway a few seasons back and participation in a plethora of AIDS awareness campaigns, some of which he helped create, Jack has assembled an army for good. Donations from followers are coming in (around $33,000 so far for Jack alone), and others, like Martone Cycling Co. and Scruff, have shown their mettle in response to Jack’s inspired leadership by offering special incentives.Inspired by Jack’s commitment, Martone Cycling Co. (www.martonecycling.com) has donated two bikes, each of which retail for $1,500, to the ride—one will be raffled off to those donating $100 or more and the other will be awarded to the person who is the highest overall fundraiser other than Mackenroth. SCRUFF (www.SCRUFF.com) has also become a supporter, too, by purchasing team jerseys for The Mack Pack. Additionally, the meeting-men app company matched up to $2,500 in donations last month.

Why does he ride? “Well, I truly believe that we should all try to leave this world a better place than when we came into it,” says Jack. “HIV is obviously a very personal cause for me since I’ve been living with HIV for twenty-five years. I’m lucky but there are a lot of people who are really struggling with their health. They need our help. I have great health so I feel obligated to pay it forward.” He’s riding to honor the memory of his partner, Greg Beutler, who died in 1996, and others he has lost. He’s riding to support Housing Works because he believes in its mission and he remembers how important organizations like it were to him when he was diagnosed as positive at age twenty. He’s riding because there’s more miles to go in the fight against AIDS.

A&U caught up with the spokes-person to ask him about the motivation behind keeping two wheels in working order.

Chael Needle: In your video, you mention that you have never ridden seriously. What does your training involve and how is the training going so far?
Jack Mackenroth:
Ha! Well I purchased a pretty good bike which helps a lot and I clip into the pedals which helps use all my leg muscles. I try to ride at least ten miles every day—around the city and to the gym. I take spinning classes and on the weekends we do at least one long ride. My boyfriend has done several rides before and he is extremely helpful. We did seventy-two miles last Saturday. Regardless, it’s gonna hurt my taint no matter how hard I train. [Smiles.] It does help that I’ve been an athlete my whole life but the AIDS Ride welcomes all skill levels. It’s not a race.

Do you have any tips for beginners who may want to train for next year’s event?
Sure! Invest in a good bike—nothing crazy—like $1,200. It makes a world of difference. And just have fun. It doesn’t matter if you are fast or slow—it’s all about the camaraderie and the experience. We all support and push each other. Also—start early in the year. I had a job that prevented me from committing until July so I had only two months to train and fundraise. And don’t forget to eat and hydrate. A lot.

How did you come up with the idea for personalized selfies?
Well, since I didn’t have much time to fundraise I tried to draw on the resources I do have. My social media network is pretty massive for someone who is not a real celebrity so I wanted to figure out a way to mobilize and monetize it. Everyone likes a shout-out on social media and my semi-naked photos get a lot of retweeets so it’s a win-win. Sex sells and what better cause than charity—especially HIV/AIDS? For $250 or more I will tag your handle on my chest or arms and for $1,000 or more I will write your social media handle on my big billboard of a butt.

Are you pleased with the response you received so far in The Mack Pack’s efforts to marshal a social media army in your quest for Braking AIDS? How many have now joined the Pack?
Yes! Ecstatic! We currently have nineteen riders—that’s pretty astounding since I only formed the team in July.

What are you most concerned about right now when you think of the progress we’ve yet to make in fighting AIDS?

Image courtesy J. Mackenroth
Image courtesy J. Mackenroth

Hmm…many things. I think Truvada as PrEP is vastly under-prescribed. If I was a young, gay HIV-negative man I would take it in a heartbeat. I think people should all be getting tested every three months. Early detection is better. And if you are undetectable on treatment it is virtually impossible for you to transmit HIV.

I don’t think you should ever ask someone’s HIV status. The information is useless unless they tell you they are positive. Just assume they are positive and proceed accordingly. That’s just my opinion.

Also, I honestly think there will be a cure in my lifetime. There are so many great tech- nological advances happening.

And HIV should never be criminalized. It stops people from getting tested. People like to blame others for their own responsibilities. Shame.

Lastly, the stigma is cripplingly oppressive. Stop with the judgments. I didn’t get HIV by doing anything almost everyone reading this has also done. So it could be you. Have some compassion.

You work tirelessly for AIDS advocacy, you design clothes, you swim competively. How do you save yourself from burning out?
Well, I work best when I have a lot on my plate. I don’t design much these days. I can’t do everything and do it well. So HIV-related stuff is the most important to me now. The other stuff in my life takes work. I set aside time to cultivate my rela- tionship, friendships, swim, train, and all that good stuff!

UPDATE: Unified as a nineteen-member team, #TheMackPack raised over $129,000. As an individual, Jack Mackenroth reached his $50,000 goal and set a fundraising record. Not too shabby for a seven-week push to train for the Braking AIDS Ride and raise funds for Housing Works!

To make a donation: visit: http://bit.ly/jackmack. For more information about Braking AIDS and Housing Works, log on to: www.brakingaidsride.org and www.housingworks.org.

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Chael Needle is Managing Editor of A&U.