14th Annual SMART Ride hits pause in Hurricane Irma’s wake

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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TAMPA BAY | The SMART Ride (Southern Most AIDS/HIV Ride), the second largest HIV/AIDS bicycle ride in the country and the only one of its size to donate 100% of funds raised to AIDS/HIV research, will ride again this year—albeit later than normal.

The not-for-profit organization, which in its 13 years has distributed over $8.5 million to local HIV/AIDS charities like the Metro Wellness & Community Centers in Tampa Bay, was forced to postpone its 14th annual trek following the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma.

The two-day, 165-mile bike ride from Miami to Key West was originally scheduled to begin this year in late November, and local organizers and participants have been eagerly fundraising for much of 2017. This year marks only the second time the organization was forced to postpone its trip, having last done so for Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

“Irma, a storm that packed winds of up to 180 miles, approached the mainland of the United States on Saturday, September 9th and entered around Cudjoe sound in the Florida Keys,” the organization’s announcement read. “The storm was unprecedented in size and power. As a result of the storm, the Keys has had to hit the ‘Pause Button.’”

“The pause button means SMART Ride 14 needs to be postponed,” it continued, noting that the “honest answer” as to when the ride would now take place was “we just don’t know.” Organizers insisted they’re working as quickly as possible to determine a new date for the ride, with a goal of rescheduling the event for the first quarter of 2018.

The SMART Ride cited several factors in its decision, noting that popular resorts in the area aren’t scheduled to reopen until after January 2018, and that over 10,000 FEMA workers are currently (or will be) working in the area.

“All agencies felt that the decision to postpone was the right decision for each of you and for respecting the Keys recovery,” the SMART Ride wrote.

For participants who had already booked hotels or airfare, SMART Ride organizers advised they were working with local establishments and partners to the best of their ability, and urged participants to be patient. They further insisted that riders continue to train and raise awareness on the road by their presence, but also “re-start [their] fundraising as soon as it’s appropriate.”

“The need remains great for those affected by HIV and AIDS,” they urged. “Our agencies are counting on you to meet not only the needs before the storm, but the unprecedented, across the state need that has arisen. Remember, many of [our] clients… have a hard time day-to-day. They all just experienced losses of food, shelter and more. WE can make their lives better.”

James Keane, Director of LGBTQ Programs and Development at Metro Wellness & Community Centers, echoed the sentiment. He stated Metro “remains grateful for the efforts of The SMART Ride while we wish all those affected in the Keys the best with returning to pre-Irma normal as quickly as possible. We also look forward to returning to the Keys with the ride when an appropriate date is set so that we may support the area through our tourism dollars.”

The SMART Ride noted on Twitter that hurricanes and HIV “only care about one thing: causing havoc. Funding is always needed to help those affected by them.”

More information about the SMART Ride, including ways you that you can help, can be found at thesmartride.org.

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