An estimated 10,000 people from all walks of life joined together Aug. 24 at Denver’s Chessman Park and "went the distance" to show their support for those affected by HIV/AIDS. The 16th Annual AIDS Walk Colorado works to bring awareness to the fact that AIDS is not cured and the fight to find a cure should continue to be an important goal in American society and worldwide.
Beginning in 1987, the AIDS Walk started as a way for caring communities in the Rocky Mountain region to show their support, help those living with HIV/AIDS and raise the level of compassion and awareness in Colorado.
Over the 16 years the walk has been taking place, it has raised millions of dollars for AIDS service and education providers throughout the state. The Walk is the most successful AIDS fundraiser in the Rocky Mountain region.
The 10-kilometer – 6.2-mile – walkathon is both a joint fundraising opportunity for more than 30 outstanding AIDS service and education providers in Colorado and a place for many who have been affected by the disease to congregate and celebrate life as well as remember those whom they have lost.
One of the outstanding themes throughout the walk and the events preceding the event is that AIDS is not cured. There is no vaccine to prevent future infections, and even 20 years after the discovery of HIV, people are still becoming infected – in fact, the rate of infection is now on the rise for the first time since 1994.
And although these statistics are available to the public and government, AIDS service organizations are seeing government funding and corporate and individual donations stagnate or drop.
One of the reasons believed to have caused this trend is the fact that many people with HIV/AIDS are living longer lives, giving the public the misconception that AIDS has been cured.
This point was driven home by several keynote speakers who said a few words before the walk began. Among those who spoke was the new mayor of Denver, John Hickenlooper.
"I think what the AIDS Walk shows is that an entire metro area can come around a single need of the community and join together for one day in an incredible show of strength," Hickenlooper said.
"To me that’s what’s always been so amazing to me about the AIDS Walk is that people come from all over the state and for one morning are focused on raising money to try and solve one of the great medical challenges of our time."
Although there were many things going on before the walk began, such as warm-up routines, professional massages and free samples from a variety of different corporate sponsors, they all took place around 12 panels of the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt, which was on display in front of the main stage.
With each quilt section measuring 12-feet by 12-feet, this was the largest display in Denver in several years, covering a total of 1,728 square feet. The quilt sections included panels created by friends and families to honor the Denver-area residents who have died from AIDS.
The Quilt, which began in San Francisco in 1987 as a memorial to those who had died of AIDS and help people understand the impact of the disease, still remains a powerful reminder of those who have died.
Today, there are more than 44,000 individual 3-by-6-foot memorial panels sewn together, each commemorating the life or lives of someone who has died of AIDS. There were 84,000 names of men women and children on quilt as of October 2001.
Since 1987, more than 14 million people have visited the Quilt worldwide, raising more than $3 million through donations. In its entirety, the Quilt covers 792,000 square feet, is comprised of 50 miles of fabric and weighs more than 50 tons.
One of the many walkers participating in this year’s event was Steve Gomes, who was with a group of about 50 friends and family members walking with the Hemophilia Society. Gomes is no stranger to the AIDS Walk as he has been walking in it for 16 years.
"My son had AIDS from hemophilia," Gomes said of his son Joshua who contracted the disease through a blood transfusion at age 2. "My son always walked with us every year, sometimes even in a wheelchair."
Joshua Gomes died of AIDS in 2001 at 21 years old, but his spirit still lives on through his friends and family members who walk every year to help find a cure.
"AIDS is not about any specific segment of society," Gomes said. "It’s about people who are struggling – it’s one of the most difficult things you can face, it doesn’t just affect that one person, but the whole family."
by Jason P. Smith