Positive Spin
Joe Ede Long-Distance Cycles for a Cause
by John Francis Leonard

Photographed Exclusively for A&U by Brent Dundore

A personal narrative fraught with disappointment and pain, especially in one’s formative years, can overwhelm the best of people, often leading to dysfunction and unhappiness that comes to define one’s adulthood. In the case of Joe Ede, an unhappy childhood bred a strength, an inner resolve that has made him strong, not only strong, but willing to extend himself fully in order to help others. He went on to become a major fundraiser for HIV/AIDS-related causes through cycling in various fundraising bike rides nationwide. He takes great satisfaction in helping others, realizing that he’s part of a much larger community from which he draws strength and finds his own joy in supporting that community through his own physical efforts. In doing so, he has found ways to make his own family, one which brings him joy and comfort instead of disappointment. As of this past July, Joe has raised over $110,00 in much-needed funds for AIDS organizations, an extraordinary amount especially considering he has done it through his own, and his donors’, efforts.

When talking to Joe about his early years, there’s no self-pity, no sentimentality. He recounts his parent’s dysfunctional marriage and his rejection by both them and his brothers and sisters with no rancor. The facts are simply the facts. Both his mother and father were alcoholics and divorced when he was in his early teens. His mother disappeared from her children’s lives and soon remarried. His father threw Joe out of the family home while he was still in high school upon finding out that his son was gay, and he went to live with the family of a school friend. He was living blocks away, but it may have well been thousands of miles since there was no contact. In Joe’s words, “This has shaped me and kind of, when I think about it, when I’m doing the cycling events, I have the opportunity to help others. I’m really aware of it turning around all the negativity of the past. I can do for others what my family couldn’t and wouldn’t do for me. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

Joe cycled in his first ride in 1997. His first impulse was the physical challenge, but very soon the cause became even more personal. He went to have a regular physical and they offered to do a test for HIV as part of it. Thinking it was a good idea, he agreed, no particular reason. His results came back positive and, once again, Joe took a positive outlook. Luckily, the medications were now available for treatment, and Joe immediately sought that treatment at a local HIV clinic. He was now living in Minneapolis, where help was available. He didn’t know what a viral load or T-cell count meant, but it was soon explained to him. “I thought I was lucky and if they told me to take medication, I would do so. I’ll take the medication because I don’t want to die. It was as simple as that in my mind. So I started to take the meds and, fortunately, didn’t suffer from any side effects,” he recalls now. Eventually, in 2000, he became undetectable and throughout continued his involvement with AIDS cycling fundraisers.

There’s another thing Joe always thinks about that inspires his fundraising and that’s his best friend Todd. Todd and Joe no longer lived in the same state, but they remained close. He was the first person that Joe reached out to to share the news of his diagnosis. Todd happened to be keeping a secret. He himself had been recently diagnosed, but, where Joe chose to see things in a positive light, Todd was filled with shame and fear. He refused to seek treatment despite living close to a major medical facility. Joe counseled him the best that he could, but to no avail. Eventually they started to drift apart, but Todd was always on his mind. He attempted to call Todd’s home to catch up and see how he was faring and a woman, Todd’s mother, answered. This struck him as odd since Todd had claimed to be estranged from his family. Todd’s mother let Joe know that he was currently in the hospital, seriously ill, and that she was there to take care of him when he was discharged. He was shocked at the news; he and Todd had been friends for twelve years and he hadn’t let him know just how sick he was.

Looking back on it now, Joe remarks on how every person deals with an HIV diagnosis differently. He himself had accepted treatment and carried on with his life and good works, but so many go down a dark path, turning to drugs or alcohol or not seeking treatment at all. They become self-destructive, turning their shame and stigma inward. He tells me that, “When Todd died soon after, I decided I would be even more committed to doing what I had been. I had no idea that twenty years later I would be sitting here talking about doing so many bike rides and raising so much money. That was the promise I made to myself. That I would continue to ride my bike and continue to help people and I’m doing it for Todd. For his memory.”

Joe completed his forty-eighth bike ride this past July and is still going strong. When asked why he does it, he says, “I’ve been really lucky and fortunate because every year I go to people and tell them what I will do, as far as riding, tell them what I need to raise, and people have been very generous. All those people donated all that money because they believe in what I’m doing. They believe, as I always have, that we’re all just here to help each other. I do the riding, they do the donating and together we can help others who need support.” These rides raise millions for local AIDS service organizations, causes that are near to Joe’s heart. It ties in perfectly with his strong commitment to serving others. He tells me, “These organizations are still around because people still need help whether it’s because they’re financially unstable, unemployed, or even homeless. That motivates me.”

Joe has taken part in rides all over the country, but the one closest to his heart is Minnesota’s Red Ribbon Ride. It supports many local organizations that assist the HIV community when they need it the most. Joe comes alive talking about youth camps, group living, and agencies that feed the hungry. The different rides nationwide fund many such local organizations, keeping them open when federal funding has dried up. It’s really Joe’s life’s work to do his part in this. He teaches indoor cycling and works nine-to-five in an office, but it’s that fund raising that gives his life its real purpose. For him the message is that, “Every donation is important, no matter how much it is. I’m just grateful that people are still talking about HIV because it’s not over. HIV and AIDS are still here and people are still dying. People still need help.”

For more information, or to make a donation, readers can visit: http://facebook.com/CyclingWithJoe.

John Francis Leonard writes the Bright Lights, Small City column for A&U.