It's simple enough: Glen Weinzimer, the 55-year-old, Bronx-born New York native who founded Southern Most AIDS/HIV Ride (aka SMART), hates to be told what to do. In 1993, when Wienzimer was diagnosed with AIDS, the doctor told him he had 10 days to live. At the time, Weinzimer felt anger — even though he was hospitalized and quite ill, he was mostly angry that his plans for the future were disrupted.
His coping mechanism was simple: every day he would say to himself, "Today isn’t a good day to die" — and then Weinzimer would come up with a good reason to hang on. By 2001, Weinzimer had parlayed this daily mantra into a committment to help reorganize and produce — with the help of some friends — an bicycle ride that would go from Miami to Key West, Florida. This ride would be different from other AIDS fundraising rides around the country, he decided, in that it would give 100 percent of every single dollar the participants raised to HIV service organizations around Florida.
Weinzimer planned a one-time only event for the fall of 2003, a ride that eventually raised $169,000 for local charities. That would have been the end of the story, but with some coercing Weinzimer was convinced to keep the ride alive, year after year. The SMART ride has now completed 12 successful rides and raised over $7.3 million for people living with HIV. But it wasn't until 2010 that Weinzimer himself got back on a bike. The year he turned 50, the activist organizer straddled bicycle for the first time in 30 years — and rode that 165 mile stretch with a team called Let’s Roll Bitches. He says it was rewarding to do something that he had never imagined doing before being diagnosed, let alone doing it at the age of 50 while living with HIV.
Glen Weinzimer and his sister on the ride (below)
He remembers his mother saying, “You’ll never do that! Seriously you aren’t going to ride all the way to Key West!” Weinzimer proved her wrong and finished the ride, and, he boasts, "I wasn’t the last one in!"
The promise of 100 percent raised, 100 percent donated continues. “It is the dumbest business model ever,” Weinzimer laughs.
Weinzimer’s words of advice are to other HIV-positive people is simple: have a purpose, take control where you can, remain engaged in the process, learn as much as you can about HIV and AIDS, and do good in the world.
The rewards, he says, have been immense, ranging from the people he gets to see every year on SMART orientation day to the sense of awe he feels at the end of each ride in Key West looking out over the sea of 750 faces and thinks to himself, “Wow, they believed in me, and together we made this happen."
Weinzimer may be the creative face behind the SMART Ride, but he admits he wouldn’t be successful if it wasn’t for his business partner and logistics guru, John Rogatzki.
"I can make it pretty, he can make it work," Weinzimer admits.
What currently drives Weinzimer is a widespread belief he encounters that AIDS isn’t a “thing” anymore, that somehow HIV is always controllable and people don’t convert to stage 3 HIV or AIDS anymore.
"Nothing could be further from the truth. I got [HIV] from someone I dated, that I truly believe didn’t know he was HIV-positive. If we don’t talk about AIDS in school or in your place of worship or at work people forget. As the largest group of new infections are in kids 18-24, we have an obligation to say the word 'AIDS' and make it real. Only they can we put closure to this disease."
He wants people who are poz to keep living. "I would tell myself not to question the 'less than practical' things I did [like] buying a house or going on trips — life is short and can change on a dime. So I would tell anyone to live life, enjoy life, and have no regrets."
And what of his life now?
"I am on a mission to help raise awareness. I have run into too many people who live in gated communities with people just like themselves, with two perfect children that go to a perfect school but are not being educated about HIV and the high risk they face. I feel that getting people to say the word AIDS makes it real. Last year, SMART Ride had over 10,000 unique donations; that means over 10,000 people where called to action and said the word AIDS. They questioned each other at the dinner table about a charge to SMART Ride, that opened dialogue and allowed for there to be real conversation. Hopefully in some of those cases there were kids at the table and they too got to ask questions. Every person who becomes aware and lives smarter is a win."