“I walk because there is work to be done” – Why Mark walks in the Calgary AIDS Walk & Run.

Alisha Ostberg antiretroviral therapy, Blog, events, HEAT, human rights, living with HIV, personal story, stigma

HIV Community Link’s HEAT Program Coordinator Mark Randall shares why he walks every year in the Calgary AIDS Walk & Run. The AIDS Walk is a 3 month long fundrasier, that raises money for HIV Community Link’s programs across Calgary and Southern Alberta. It culminates in a fun Walk and Run every year in September. To register for the 25th anniversary of the Calgary AIDS Walk & Run click here. 

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This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the Calgary AIDS Walk and Run, held annually at the Eau Claire Marker Plaza and Prince’s Island Park. Most often on a “crisp” autumn morning. It is hard to believe that this event is coming up the 25th anniversary of its inaugural “outing” to Calgary and broader communities.

As I begin my annual “overtures” to friends, family, colleagues and anyone else I can access for sponsorship donations and support, I started to think back on what 25 years of this event have meant to me and how it has changed and stayed the same.

My first Walk was at the National AIDS Walk with a Calgary event planned as part of a nationally coordinated effort through the Canadian AIDS Society and their members across the country. It was also when I first connected to HIV Community Link (AIDS Calgary) as a volunteer and then later as registered client with them.

This was my first step “out” publicly as a person who was HIV positive and becoming more actively engaged in the HIV movement in Calgary, and later provincially and nationally.  My first walk was the catalyst for my years of HIV work that’s continued to this day. “AIDS = DEATH” was the message being heard.

I walked because there was work to be done.

Over the years changes in the National AIDS Walk began to emerge as members began to create their own events, promotional materials and began to take the message from their communities forward. It also saw the creation of two separate AIDS Walks for a few years where my support shifted to another HIV serving organisation. Not that one organisation was better than another; my heart and passion just connected to one at that particular time in my life and HIV work.

This is where I learned how to create partnerships, work in tandem even when there were different perspectives, and to focus on who it was about; people living with HIV. It is where I learned that politics and challenges exist connected to HIV related stigma, adequate funding resources and good strategic planning. I remember the themed message at this time was “Treatment Access for All.”

I walked because there was work to be done.

A few years later saw the return to a single partnership AIDS Walk and resulted in a bigger and better community engagement, assisted in the building of bridges in community while creating safe spaces and interagency supports for people living with HIV. I continued to support the Walk as I have always done because I believed in the work by organisations for people living with and still dying from HIV. New treatments became available and we started to talk about long term life outcomes, and reversals of AIDS diagnoses as many recovered under the new treatment options.

I walked because there was work to be done.

When I returned to work for an HIV organisation I shifted my fundraising efforts towards them. Continuing to support an organisation that had supported me, my friends, my family and my colleagues impacted by HIV. Also, as a way of continuing to get the message out about the changes related to HIV and AIDS over many years. “Treatment works and Treatment as Prevention – TasP” became the message we shared.

I walked because there was work to be done.

During these last 9 years working with HIV Community Link, I have seen the advances in science related to HIV prevention and treatment move faster than I could ever have imagined. I have seen the messages now change to reflect the successes of HIV advocacy. Knowing one’s status and effective HIV treatment has led to undetectable equals untransmittable.  Criminalisation of HIV non-disclosure remains a reality for people living with HIV in Canada to this day. We have moved from AIDS = DEATH to U = U and that is exceptional success, but funding for HIV organisations remains a challenge. A National Strategy is still needed in Canada. PrEP is a prevention tool that needs to be covered and accessible to all who need or want it. HIV is preventable.

I walk because there IS work to be done.
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Register or donate to the Calgary AIDS Walk & Run here.