Glen Weinzimer, founder of Smart Ride, believes that people want to help others, but often don’t know how to do it.
Participating in Smart Ride–either as a rider, volunteer or a donor–is an excellent way to do so.
One hundred percent of the proceeds raised during Smart Ride go to HIV and AIDS charities. The list includes A.H. of Monroe County, Pridelines in Miami, Broward House in Fort Lauderdale, Compass in West Palm Beach and Miracle of Love in Orlando.
The organizations receive funds which go towards medicine, dental care, case management, housing, food and emergency assistance.
The Smart Ride is the second largest AIDS bicycle ride in the country and attracts participants of all ages. Riders between the ages of 18 and 76 bike from Miami to Key West – which is 165 miles– and raise money from sponsors. The event costs $135 to register and riders commit to raise a minimum of $1,250 in donations. The event typically has 700 participants and around 200 volunteers.
The ride is long, but there are rest stops every 15-20 miles and pit stops along the route offering snacks, Gatorade, etc. There is also a medical team along to help. The schedule includes opening and closing ceremonies, candlelight vigils, an overnight at Hawks Cay and so much more.
People come from all over the country to participate in Smart Ride. In 2019, 39 states were represented. The largest group of riders was from Broward County and the second largest was from out-of-state.
Since 2003, when Weinzimer started the event, $12.4 million has been raised for AIDS service organizations. More than $818,000 has been raised so far this year.
Weinzimer said that Smart Ride is the third iteration of the bike riding event. It was originally started at the height of the AIDS pandemic, in 1993.
“People were trying to help,” Weinzimer said. “Their friends were dying.”
His ex participated in 1994 as Weinzimer watched from the sidelines.
“I was so impressed as a spectator that I wanted to start volunteering,” he said.
Weinzimer said at the time he had the full-blown symptoms of AIDS and had to retire. He said he was going crazy with his “Type A” personality and needed to do something.
In 2001, the last iteration of the ride was down to only 190 riders and the event was losing money.
“People had lost trust in the event,” Weinzimer said.
He spoke at the event’s closing and explained how the event should be handled and what was causing it to fail.
“I challenged everyone and said we can do better,” Weinzimer explained.
A month after his speech, he received a phone call offering for him to run it. The last group running the event said they would give him all the supplies because they wanted the event to be successful.
“I said I would only do it if every dollar goes back to the agencies,” Weinzimer said.
He also said he would only do it if the participants had full-knowledge of the money they raised and how it would be contributed.
He agreed to do it, but was worried about getting people together to volunteer for spots that were formerly paid positions. He even used his own credit card to get the first event running.
The first year, $169,000 was raised. The second year, it doubled and the event has been growing ever since. By the 10th year, Smart Ride raised 1 million dollars.
In the last few years Smart Ride added a 10% lifeline — where up to 10% of the total raised from the ride is put aside and gifted to other agencies throughout Florida who also provide services for those living with HIV/AIDS.
Changes in the age of coronavirus
In 2019, Smart Ride raised the most it ever had– $1.4 million.
“It was almost like a premonition that the next year would be a bad year,” Weinzimer said.
In 2020 Smart Ride still took place but, because of the coronavirus pandemic, was a lot different. Now named “Smart Ride Reimagined,” the community was asked to be more creative in how they raised the money.
The event couldn’t be skipped because agencies needed the funds. Through the pandemic, several fundraisers had to be canceled for safety, but the group behind Smart Ride found a way to make it work.
Instead of the event’s usual trek from Miami to Key West. People committed to finding other ways to participate. This could be logging 165 miles on their own, or undertaking other other physical challenges over the weekend that the Smart Ride journey would have taken place. Some did sit-ups, some walked, some cleaned the beach. Other Smart Ride events, like the candlelight vigil and opening and closing ceremonies, were moved to virtual settings.
The event was a success.
This year, the ride resumed its original format, but with several notable changes.
“This year we are back to a full ride, but with lots of precautions,” Weinzimer said.
Everyone must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from within 72 hours.
In past years, there has been one large tent for riders at Hawk’s Cay, where they stay overnight in Key West. This year, there will be three tents so people aren’t crowded in.
Also, people are staying in villas this year, so they can stay with their group of friends. Riders are encouraged to take dinner in their villas so everyone is not out at once.
Another change is that the Massage Tent is now a Holistic Tent. Instead of people going in and out and getting massages, they can stretch and do yoga.
“It’s accomplishing the same thing,” Weinzimer said.
There are several other changes as well for safety.
“Everyone has come together to make solutions,” Weinzimer said.
He said they changed expectations, but didn’t eliminate things.
As of today, $810,000 has been raised, but Weinzimer is confident that they will hit $1 million.
The event continues to be successful and is needed now more than ever as Florida continues to lead the U.S. in the number of new HIV cases.
There is still time to join the Smart Ride and also to donate to this worthy cause, visit TheSmartRide.org for more information.