Pedaling With A Purpose

Now is the time to start training for the two-day Paradise Ride Kauai, a benefit for Malama Pono, that happens in August. It’s a great way to get fit and make new friends while helping an important island organization

Malama Pono’s annual signature fundraiser, Paradise Ride Kauai, is right around the corner, and now is the perfect time to start training. “You can do a lot more than what you think you are able to do,” says Jeff Demma, encouraging people to participate this year. The former executive director of Malama Pono, a nonprofit dedicated to stopping the transmission of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, he has participated in the event since 2006.

The noncompetitive, two-day (Aug. 2 and 3) long-distance bicycle ride is open to anyone who wishes to stretch their abilities for a good cause. Some of the best things about the ride are the friendships that blossom and camaraderie that abounds among people from all walks of life.

“You find an incredible amount of energy and support from people who are riding along with you,” says Demma.

His husband and partner of 16 years, Ross Martineau, finds the experience rewarding as well, and appreciates the communal accomplishment of finishing such a tremendous feat.

“And you can take as much time as you want to get where you’re going,” he explains.

It’s not a race, and participants may ride as much or as little as they wish. The first day covers a path of some 60 miles from Island School in Puhi to the North Shore, while the second day, another 60 miles, travels south from the same starting point. Three meals are provided each day, and rest stops equipped with medical and mechanical care are stationed along the way.

“What’s amazing to me is seeing things from a completely different perspective that you always miss from your car,” says Demma. “And you’ll never think of it the same way again when you cover that trail on a bicycle.”

There also is an “unbelievable core” of volunteers who make the event possible. For example, the multiple signs that dot the island on race days take an incredible amount of work – and Demma should know, as he was the executive director of Malama Pono during the first year the ride was organized. Prior to 2006, the event was sponsored predominately by the Life Foundation, an AIDS service organization on Oahu. But it was costly to move from island to island, and Malama Pono decided to approach the foundation in hope that it could branch off to host its own Paradise Ride Kauai. Demma was the ride’s first director and was responsible for all the logistics. It was familiar terrain, however, since he had participated in California AIDS rides before moving to the island, and understood what it took to put on the multiday event. Needless to say, it was combination of Demma’s skills as executive director and the ride that financially saved Malama Pono that year.

The ride continues to be the organization’s primary breadwinner – and it keeps growing. The first year, it brought in approximately $50,000 with some 30 riders. Last year, there were 86 riders and close to $80,000 was raised. Demma and Martineau alone have raised some $40,000 over the years.

“People love to donate – you just have to ask,” says Demma.

Registrants pay a fee to participate and are asked to make a fundraising commitment of $300. There are a number of creative ways to go about collecting money, including a party Demma and Martineau hosted in recent years where they asked attendees to bring donations instead of pupu and wine.

Or, “You could go on a Starbucks diet,” says Demma. “You don’t have to give a lot in order to make a difference. No donation is too small.”

Malama Pono holds a special place in Demma’s heart. He has been HIV positive for 26 years and is a client of the organization. Though he has been “lucky and healthy,” he says by the time he was 30 years old, he had lost many of his close friends to the disease.

“The agency, in terms of what it does for the island, is so important,” he says.

The nonprofit opened its doors 20 years ago at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Since then, the disease has carried unfortunate and inaccurate stigmas that people often shy away from discussing. The same goes for sexually transmitted diseases, for which the organization offers free, confidential information and testing. Many people have utilized the services throughout the years, and countless numbers of clients have received much-needed assistance from Malama Pono.

“It’s so easy not to be able to understand what it really means and how much of a difference Malama Pono can make in someone’s life,” says Demma, an actor who, along with Martineau, frequents Kauai stages.

Funding is crucial for the organization in order to keep its doors open, and Paradise Ride Kauai is vital to its survival.

“This kind of event is truly lifeblood for the agency,” says Demma.

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