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Riding with Rich: Highest BRAKING THE CYCLE™ Fundraiser Talks About His First-Year Ride

Riding with Rich: Highest BRAKING THE CYCLE™ Fundraiser Talks About His First-Year Ride

Image courtesy of Alan Barnett

This year, Housing Works was the beneficiary for the annual BRAKING THE CYCLE™ bike ride—a three-day charity ride from Boston to New York that raises funds for vital HIV/AIDS programs and services. Heralded as a “civil rights march on two wheels,” over one-hundred riders, including Housing Works’ staff and volunteers, signed up for this year’s ride, traversing the 285 miles through New England’s bucolic roads to raise funds to fight to end the dual crises of AIDS and homelessness. In total, this year’s riders raised over $220,000 to benefit Housing Works, thanks in large part to BRAKING THE CYCLE™ first-year rider Rich Biletta, who helped secure Housing Works as this year’s beneficiary and who was also this year’s highest fundraiser, raising $21,550 thus far.

We sat down with Rich to ask him about his transition BRAKING THE CYCLE™ crew member to rider, his outstanding fundraising achievement, and what he loves about the ride.

Housing Works: Why don’t we begin with your personal story, and how you first became involved with Housing Works?

Rich Biletta: I am a 52 year-old father of three sons. I have lived in New Jersey all my life and have stayed relatively close to the East Coast, attending Dickinson College (PA) and then Rutgers.

As a New Jersey native, I have always known about Housing Works, donating and shopping in the Thrift stores. But it wasn’t until I was introduced to Joe Magnone and Ed Garou—two Housing Works board members—that I understood the expansiveness of Housing Works’ operations and all they do for the those living with HIV/AIDS in New York, Haiti, and globally.

HW: Can you tell us a little bit about how you became involved with BRAKING THE CYCLE™?

RB: I have been involved with BRAKING THE CYCLE™ for several years now. I was initially recruited to the ride by Alan Barnett—a former rider who is now the ride’s photographer—and I served on the BTC crew in 2008 and then again in 2011. After crewing last year, I made the decision that I was going to ride.

HW: I understand that you were reluctant to ride because of the fundraising component, yet you ended up being this year’s highest fundraiser! Could you offer words of encouragement for others who might be nervous about the fundraising commitment?

RB: Yes, the fundraising was always a concern for me, and was probably one reason I didn’t participate in BRAKING THE CYCLE™ as a rider until this year. $3,500 is a lot of money to raise!

But, I believe my fundraising was made easier because Housing Works was the beneficiary. Most everyone I spoke to about the ride knew of Housing Works, their Thrift stores, and its mission and services for those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. I strongly believe in the programs and services of Housing Works, so it was easy for me to talk about it and get people interested in the ride.

Here are few fundraising tips that worked for me. Don’t leave any contact unturned; they are all potential donors. And you might be surprised by who they are and how much they donate. Don’t limit your donor pool to friends and family. I asked everyone for support, even the local garden center, which donated generously. Follow up persistently.

I teamed up with fellow rider Courtney Maier-Burbela to have the BRAKING THE CYCLE™ Whole Hog Pig Roast that raised nearly $8,000. We had so much fun doing it that we’re considering making it an annual event. And I joined a team, The Flying Goats, which all together raised over $100,000 for Housing Works. In addition, I am fortunate to work for a very generous company. My employer, the Mack Family, was very generous, and I am grateful to them and to everyone who donated to Housing Works on my account. I am truly humbled by the support and encouragement.

HW: Can you give us a story about your ride this year, and how the experience has differed from being a BRAKING THE CYCLE™ crew member?

RB: This is a somewhat funny question, since during the ride I commented to a few crew members that riding is a lot easier than crewing! As a crew member, you get up before the riders, you get in after the riders, and you’re often asked to go beyond your assigned responsibilities. But as a rider, all you do is eat, sleep, and ride. Everything you need is taken care of for you.

By riding, I got to experience the ride from a whole different perspective, and I loved the camaraderie among the riders. Everyone is there to help you out along the way with words of encouragement or to lend a hand when you get a flat, and I met a lot of new people on the ride who I am proud to call friends.

A few times while stopped at lights and just standing with my bike, people asked what I was doing. Having the opportunity to explain BRAKING THE CYCLE™ and to promote awareness of Housing Works’ dual mission of fighting homelessness and HIV/AIDS made every hill along the route a little easier.

HW: What encouragement or advice would you give to someone who is fearful about being able to complete the 3-day ride? Is it achievable for someone who isn’t a hard-core biker?

RB: Before this year I was at best an occasional recreational cyclist, but once I joined the ride, I started training last winter and then through the summer, joining the organized training rides sponsored by BRAKING THE CYCLE™, and I trained often with fellow rider Nancy Swords, who really kicked my butt. I committed at least one day and sometimes both days of every weekend of the summer to training. I did my first century (a 100-mile ride) on September 16, 2012. Two weeks later, I did two back-to-back centuries and an 80-mile ride.

As my training rides got longer and the hills got steeper, I never stopped thinking of the people I was riding for and how they are challenged every second of their lives living with HIV/AIDS. That was my motivation. I kept on riding because HIV is still a threat and there are still so many people living with or affected by HIV. I also decided to ride for my kids, so that someday they may live without the fear of this disease.

And my training prepared me well. I rode every one of the nearly 288 miles of the ride, and 100 or so of them in the pouring rain. I am proud of what I have done, and I’m proud to have supported Housing Works.

HW: Will we see you riding next year for the renamed “BRAKING AIDS RIDE™?”

RB: Absolutely! I’ve already signed up.

Donations for this year’s BRAKING THE CYCLE™ are open until October 27th and are a great way to recognize the amazing accomplishments of this year’s riders and to continue supporting Housing Works.

To donate to individual riders, crew members, or BRAKING THE CYCLE™ teams, visit www.brakingthecycle.org or contact Lily Acunzo at l.acunzo@housingworks.org or 347-473-7457.

For more information about BRAKING THE CYCLE™, visit their website, or contact Blake Strasser at Global Impact Productions at bstrasser@globalimpactpro.com or 212-989-1111. To sign up for next year’s ride, which will be named the BRAKING AIDS™ Ride, visit www.brakingaidsride.org.

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