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The Flaming Unicorns Represent PHX in Nation’s Largest HIV/AIDS Fundraiser

Published: Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Updated: Friday, June 29, 2012 13:06

Flaming Unicorns

Tiera Allen • College Times

The Flaming Unicorns


Six Downtown Phoenix residents – who call themselves the Flaming Unicorns – recently were among the finishers in the nation’s largest HIV/AIDS fundraiser.

 The The AIDS/LifeCycle (ALC) is a seven-day, 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It raised $12.6 million this year, and ended on June 9.

ALC donates 65 cents of every dollar (that’s a 35 percent operating cost) to the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. While there is no cure for HIV, the funds can help those with HIV live productive lives.

The Flaming Unicorns, who describe themselves as community activists, designers, local business owners and humanitarians, are Eric Irestone, Dann Dykas, Susie Clare, Ruben Gonzales, Brian Paez and Rafael Sanchez.

They called the journey, which began June 3 and ended June 9, a life-changing journey on two wheels.

“We wanted to do something different and we wanted to do something meaningful,” said Dykes, an industrial design student at ASU who had heard about the ride from friends.

Despite having different schedules, they focused on fundraising and outreach. The Flaming Unicorns paid to have a booth at Phoenix Pride Festival to get the word out, and they turned their Halloween bash into a fundraising opportunity.

While the charities are California based, one-third of the riders at this year ALC were from out of state. Kenney, the Flaming Unicorns’ AIDS/Life Cyclist representative, said it’s because the San Francisco AIDS Foundation often sets the policy and direction for every other clinic in the country.

“We have a lot of influence in Washington, D.C., so anything that we do is replicable in every other community center possible,” he said. “Often what we end up doing, other centers around the country implement it locally.”

The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center (the largest gay and lesbian center in the country) also has a fully accredited medical facility onsite and provides services for people who can’t afford it. Kenney said the center sees nearly 2,500 clients a year who are able to get treatment onsite.

Through their efforts, the members of the Flaming Unicorns raised over $22,000 for the cause. In addition to fundraising, they had to prepare for their seven-day ride. They took training into their own hands, despite not being seasoned cyclists. They borrowed, bought, built and even had their bikes donated for the ride.

“We all ride bikes because we live downtown, but none of us had done more than 50 miles in a run,” said Dykas.

They trained as much as they could around the Valley to be able to withstand the consecutive ride. They rode to the Renaissance Fair from downtown Phoenix and practiced on the hills near Saguaro Lake north of Mesa.

While fun, the ride proved to be challenging. They rode in sun, wind, fog, rain and hail at some points during the ALC. Team members even suffered minor injuries, but they all crossed the finish line together. The Flaming Unicorns attribute their success to the warm and accommodating community that ALC is known for.

“The camp is 3,000 people moving down the coast,” said Dykas. “Even so, you learn faces fast. There were around 2,200 riders and 700 or 800 roadies and staff. The roadies do all the work. They do everything that doesn’t involve riding.”

Although the riders were pampered by the staff, injuries still occurred. Gonzales, owner of 11th Monk3y Apparel and Designs and co-owner of The Lab at 137, had his knee go out two days before the ride ended, but he still managed to push through the pain.

“My knee just started to lock up,” Gonzales said. “So like everyone else I hit the medic tent and had them wrap it. It did its job for a bit but my knee just had it, and if it wasn’t for a few people coming up behind me and helping me climb those last hill with one foot clipped in I wouldn’t of made it. I needed to cross that finish line one way or another and it was gonna’ be on my bike not walking nor driving.”

Once they crossed the finish line in Los Angeles, half of the team signed up for ALC next year. The Flaming Unicorns tradition will live on and now that they’ve found their footing, they’ve got plenty in store 2013.

“It’s like that first love,” Gonzales said, “the one you will remember for the rest of your life.”

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