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    Team Smiley Rides to Bring Joy and HIV Awareness to Northern California

    By AIDS/LifeCycle–

    For married couple and co-captains, Mooney Gow and Curtis Paullins, Team Smiley represents the best of the Ride—community, advocacy, and the “right thing to do” in honor of the friends whom they have lost to HIV.

    Based in Sacramento, Team Smiley is a 24-member team ready to embark on their seventh ride to raise funds for the life-saving services of San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the HIV-related services of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Formed by Sacramento-based Gow and Paullins, the team has not only raised nearly $100,000 for this year’s ride, but also nearly $500,000 since the team’s inception. In addition, the team raises HIV awareness in more rural areas with members in Chico, Turlock, and Reno, Nevada.

    Gow and Paullins shared: “We really want to thank our top fundraisers—Craig Roecker, Brooke Kimbrough, and Garrett Lenoir, and our other founding members—Celeste Fountain and her husband Craig Roecker, Rich Kazanjian, and Kelley Murdaugh. Additionally, we would also like to thank our Roadie members Michelle and Darrell Parker who decorate their Sweep vehicle in Smiley regalia.”

    The pair additionally reflected on the significance of the team name, their supportive team culture, and the importance of bringing AIDS/LifeCycle to Sacramento.

    “My first ride was in 2014 and the following year Mooney joined in,” said Paullins. “We created Team Smiley, named after Mooney’s cheery smile, with the intention to raise awareness of HIV in a non-offensive and lighthearted way. Here in Sacramento, we welcome everyone to ride with us and even provide honorary memberships for those who can’t ride.”

    “We really put the effort in to bring AIDS Life/Cycle’s LoveBubble to Sacramento,” added Gow. “This means we provide a fully equipped experience with water, snacks, and patience for all newcomers. No one gets left behind and we try our best to be very supportive of the team.”

    The Ride is personal to both Gow and Paullins, as they both lived through the AIDS crisis of 1980s.

    “We were there at the beginning of the AIDS crisis and lived through the whole Reagan Administration ignoring the issue,” said Gow.

    Paullins added, “We lost friends and were familiar with the 1994 California AIDS Ride. So, it makes sense that this is the right thing to do—in honor of those we knew and so many others.”

    When asked about the importance of raising HIV and AIDS awareness in Northern California, both team ride leaders stressed the importance of visibility and community-building.

    Paullins said, “Unless people have family or friends living with HIV, people out here don’t think of HIV as a problem. I’ve had a lot of unexpected encounters on our training rides with community members interested in our cause because they see us training and wearing our shirts. It’s very important to raise awareness in rural areas because there is still a lot of work to be done out here.”

    AIDS/LifeCycle is co-produced by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

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    Published on May 23, 2024