East Bay man peddles with a purpose

May 30, 2008 8:43:40 PM PDT
On Sunday, a record 3,000 people will start riding their bicycles from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money to fight AIDS. The AIDS/LifeCycle ride is a challenging seven-day trip for people of any age. We caught up with a senior cyclist from Pittsburg who's pedaling with a purpose.

He's got the guts, he's got the gear and he's got the attitude. Eighty-one-year-old Richard Conn is training for his next adventure. On Sunday, Richard will begin the 545-mile AIDS/LifeCycle ride.

"I'm excited about going on the ride, yeah. I think the ride is going to be easier than the training. I keep telling myself that anyway," says Richard.

Richard started training in September, riding about 150 miles a week. He is a lifelong athlete, but he took a long and winding path to end up cycling for a cause.

In his early years, Richard served overseas in the military. He got married, raised a couple of kids in the East Bay and went on to a successful career as an engineer. But just as Richard was ready to retire, his wife developed breast cancer and passed away.

"I think the death of my wife changed me, seeing death that close," says Richard. "She was 52 at the time, and because of the hospice nurses, I was motivated to get into nursing and do the work they did."

Richard, who was then in his sixties, became a hospice nurse and later a nurse practitioner. One of his first patients was a man dying of AIDS.

"He was so young, just a beautiful young man, and it just seemed to have no reason for that kind of death," says Richard.

The young man used a little bell to call for help. Richard still has it.

So, years later, when Richard's friend, Joyce Gunn, decided to join a week-long bike ride to raise money for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Richard decided he'd go too.

In addition to everything else, Richard had been a champion long distance runner when he was in his fifties. He was sure he could make the ride, even though by then, he was 73.

Dan Ashley: "What is it that motivates you to do something so difficult?"

Richard: "Well, the people on the ride... There are 2,500 riders and about 500 people that are support people and they are all beautiful. I mean everybody just seems to help each other out."

That was the year 2000 and in the years since, Richard has continued his passion for giving. When the tsunami struck Indonesia, Richard spent a month using his nursing skills to help victims living in a remote jungle. After Hurricane Katrina, he went to help with the Department of Public Health. The devastation stunned him.

"It was kind of unbelievable that this was the United States," says Richard.

And now, eight years after his first big bike ride, Richard wants to do more to fight AIDS by riding again. This time he's chosen to do it on a recumbent tricycle.

"I'm into innovative things and it seemed to me like it would be kicks to lay back and look around. The advantage in training is when I go by kids, they yell, 'Hey you rock,' and stuff like that," says Richard.

Richard will be one of 19 riders over 70 years old on this year's AIDS/LifeCycle ride. He has two goals -- finish the trip and raise a lot of money.

"If you are able to help, if you're able to do something, it feels so good," says Richard.

And so we salute Richard Conn and wish him a great ride.

To sponsor Richard Conn in the Aids/Lifecycle Ride, click here

To find out more about the Aids/LifeCycle ride, visit: www.aidslifecycle.org

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.


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