For Pat Blandford, it's a New Year's resolution. For Mary Ritts, it's a chance to re-experience an amazing four days. And for Jimmy Payne, it's simply another way to help someone in need.
All three Southern Maryland residents are participating in this year's Washington AIDS Ride, a four-day, 330-mile bicycle trip from Raleigh, N.C., to the nation's capital. The event, now in its fourth year, raises money for organizations that assist people with AIDS and the AIDS virus. About 1,700 people are preparing to participate in this year's ride, which begins June 24.
Blandford, a pediatric nurse from Waldorf, said she has wanted to take part in the cycling event for the last three years, but with a full-time job, a husband and three teenage children, she never had enough time to train. In January, she decided she'd make the time in 1999.
"It's hard to juggle your family with this," she said, "but it's a wonderful cause. It affects so many different types of people." Blandford, who is new to cycling, said she considers the ride to be a physical challenge, plus an opportunity to help others.
Blandford, who always has exercised, began cycling in a serious way in March. Her intensive program involves cycling two or more hours four days a week, with weekends devoted to long, back-to-back rides. Yesterday, she rode 80 miles; this morning, she's supposed to complete another 100-mile trip.
To enable her to fit all this in, Blandford's whole family has pitched in. Her 17-year-old daughter, Lindsey, has been driving her sister, 14-year-old Ashley, to school and sports practices. Her husband, Joe, a supermarket meat manager, has solicited donations from co-workers. (Each AIDS Ride participant must raise at least $1,900. Blandford already has collected $2,800, and "the money is still coming in," she said gleefully.)
Still, Blandford says it hasn't been easy fitting all the training in with her work and family obligations. Several of her rides have been interrupted by the ringing of her cell phone. "One of my kids will be like, `It's time to go.' And I'll say, `Okay, just let me finish my last two miles,' " she said.
Two other local riders, Don and Mary Ritts of Prince Frederick, understand that struggle. The couple, whose children are ages 5 and 7, completed the 1997 AIDS Ride. They trained for the event last year, but they couldn't find a babysitter during the actual ride so they had to miss it. This year, they're depending on relatives for child-care help.
"It's awesome. The people that you meet on the ride, they're from all walks of life, and they're so generous," said Mary Ritts, who is still grateful to the kind person who pitched her tent on the first night of the '97 race. Mary had hurt her knee during the day's 112-mile ride; someone else gave her his turn at the massage table.
"You really come back a changed person," she added.
Compared with many of the ride's participants -- a lot of whom are first-time cyclists -- Jimmy Payne is a veteran. This year's ride will mark Payne's third trip from Raleigh to Washington. The 67-year-old California resident also has completed rides in several other cities, benefiting causes from AIDS to cancer.
But like many other riders, Payne said he became involved in the event because he knows people who have suffered from the disease. "As long as I can continue to help somebody with AIDS -- feed them, give them medicine -- I will continue to do it," said Payne, who cycles three hours every day.
Linda Curry, a teacher and coach at Thomas Stone High School in Waldorf, also hopes to participate in this year's ride, assuming she can raise the required $1,900. (She's still short about $800.) It would be her third year in a row. Adam Shank, a 17-year-old high school student from Welcome, is training for his first ride.
According to AIDS Ride organizers, participants will raise more than $2 million this year. The money will be split by two Washington-area organizations, Food & Friends and the Whitman-Walker Clinic. Food & Friends provides home-delivered food and nutrition advice to AIDS patients, while the clinic offers them services ranging from health care to legal aid.
CAPTION: Pat Blandford, a pediatric nurse from Waldorf who is new to cycling, has been in intensive training for the Washington AIDS Ride. The event begins in Raleigh, N.C., on June 24 and rolls into the nation's capital on June 27.