UI Health team bikes 200 miles, raises $11K for HIV services

The UI Health UCCN team at the closing for Ride for Life June 19, 2022.

A team of 19 staff members and providers from the UI Health Community Clinic Network at UIC biked 200 miles or more and raised more than $11,000 to support services for people living with and at risk for HIV during Ride for Life, June 18-19. 

The Ride for Life annual fundraiser is the largest event of its kind in the Midwest, and the money raised helps the Test Positive Aware Network and community partners provide housing, health care and mental health services to thousands in Chicago.  

While teams of infectious disease experts, researchers and staff from UIC have been participating in the annual fundraiser for many years, this is the first time that a team has participated as an official community partner.

Thanks to the partnership agreement, half of the money raised by the team will support Project WISH, UIC’s HIV research program, and the UI Health Community Clinic Network, which has been providing outpatient services to HIV patients at six community-based clinics throughout Chicago since 1992.  

For the UIC team captain, Elena Llinas, participation was about fundraising, but also celebration and awareness. 

“I participated in the Ride for Life to raise funds for TPAN and our HIV clinics. Also, to celebrate life and remember those that we’ve lost to this terrible illness,” she said.

Llinas said the best part of the ride was seeing riders complete the 200-mile ride, especially when they thought they didn’t have what it takes.

“I loved seeing people exceed their expectations of themselves. This reminds me that we are stronger than we think,” said Llinas, who is a quality control specialist for clinics. 

Nurse Practitioner Diana Bahena rode 50 miles during Ride for Life. She participated in the event because it was an opportunity to bond with the communities and people she cares for and raise money for a phenomenal cause. 

“The best part was the camaraderie, cheerleading volunteers, and the route. Hard to pick one,” Bahena said.  

With Project WISH, Bahena helps determine patients’ eligibility for clinical trials, and monitors and helps patients address adverse events.    

There are great resources in Chicagoland, such as TPAN and Project WISH, that are fighting to protect these vulnerabilities,” Behena said.  

Llinas, who has dedicated her life and career to improving the lives of people affected by HIV, said the work enriches her own life as well.  

“I’ve been living with HIV since 2011. Although I’m not sure I’m making people’s lives better, they are definitely making my life better,” Llinas said. “Regardless of your status, you can achieve anything you set your mind to, as long as you do it from a place is self-love. HIV is an infectious disease that nobody deserves to have.” 

The team’s fundraising efforts included hosting an amateur drag show at Hydrate and a paint-and-sip event at Pinot’s Palette, in addition to the donations raised by individuals on the team. 

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