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Local News

Lompoc Man Rides In AIDS/LifeCycle Event to Raise Awareness

Jason Villalobos, who is HIV positive, marks sixth time along the 545-mile cycling route that arrived in Santa Maria on Wednesday and reaches Lompoc on Thursday

Lompoc resident Jason Villalobos takes a break from his sixth AIDS/LifeCycle Ride at Presiker Park in Santa Maria.
Lompoc resident Jason Villalobos takes a break from his sixth AIDS/LifeCycle Ride at Presiker Park in Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Jason Villalobos will do the once-unthinkable when he rides into Lompoc on Thursday as an openly gay man participating in the AIDS/LifeCycle

“Back in the late ‘90s when I was struggling with coming out as a young gay man, I never thought any of this would ever be possible,” Villalobos, 36, said Wednesday after completing the fourth leg and arriving at Preisker Park in Santa Maria. “It is a brand-new world. I am proud of our city.”

Villalobos graduated from Lompoc High School in 1997, when there was no Gay-Straight Alliance. Today, he is asked to speak at local high schools about his life and is proud that gay, lesbian and transgender youth in Lompoc will get to see strong members of the community who are unencumbered by stigma and discrimination.

His hometown is rolling out the welcome mat for the cyclists who will camp Thursday night at Ryon Park. Explore Lompoc has arranged for a shuttle to cart cyclists who want to taste the city’s wines and Mayor Bob Lingl reportedly will greet participants.

“This is absolutely bonkers to me,” Villalobos said.

Nearly 2,400 cyclists pedaled out of Santa Maria after spending the night at Preisker Park on Thursday morning en route to the Lompoc for the fifth leg of the 15th AIDS/LifeCycle ride, organizers said. 

Lompoc’s Jason Villalobos, third from left, poses for a picture with his AIDS/LifeCycle participants at Preisker Park. Also pictured are Joe Henderer of Redlands, Miki Anzai of Los Angeles and Ernie Perez of Los Angeles. Click to view larger
Lompoc’s Jason Villalobos, third from left, poses for a picture with his AIDS/LifeCycle participants at Preisker Park. Also pictured are Joe Henderer of Redlands, Miki Anzai of Los Angeles and Ernie Perez of Los Angeles. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Participants left San Francisco on Sunday to begin their 545-mile journey to Los Angeles while raising more than $16.1 million for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the HIV/AIDS-related services of the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

In addition to riders, the AIDS/LifeCycle is accompanied by a approximately 650 volunteer roadies.

After an overnight stop at Ryon Park on Thursday night, cyclists will make their way south on Friday on the way to Ventura. The day’s lunch stop will occur at Girsh Park in Goleta.

Organizers tout the event as “the ride to end AIDS.” 

North County residents may have noticed riders are wearing a lot of red as Wednesday is the designated Red Dress Day on the route.

AIDS Life/Cycle riders arrive at the Wednesday night camping stop at Preisker Park in Santa Maria. Click to view larger
AIDS Life/Cycle riders arrive at the Wednesday night camping stop at Preisker Park in Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

In preparation, the camp had a supply of red dresses for riders to use — with a donation to AIDS/LifeCycle.

“So it all goes back to the cause,” roadie Bobbee Moore said, adding tutus are most popular among bike riders. 

Under a canopy tent nearby, riders received a coat of red nail polish in readiness for the day.

For his sixth ride, Villalobos felt apprehensive and anxious about whether he was prepped for the grueling seven days on a bike but credits “the love bubble” provided by well-wishers and team members with powering him through the route.

He is participating as a member of the Winona Riders team, and had raised $7,910 of Wednesday night toward his $10,000 goal.

Melanie Woods paints the fingernails of Ofer Yitzhaki of San Francisco in anticipation of the AIDS/LifeCycle ride’s Red Dress Day on Wednesday. Click to view larger
Melanie Woods paints the fingernails of Ofer Yitzhaki of San Francisco in anticipation of the AIDS/LifeCycle ride’s Red Dress Day on Wednesday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Villalobos was diagnosed as HIV positive when he was 28 years old, but today has completely undetectable viral loads and a high T-cell count.

“I will always be a carrier of the virus until there’s a cure,” he said. “But I am the most healthy you can possibly be while still being a carrier of HIV.” 

Losing a friend due to complications AIDS spurred him to take part in the ride.

“I was really angry at the world and really didn’t know how to focus that energy,” he said, adding he wanted to dedicate his first ride to his friend, Matthew Beals.

He also focused his energy on homeless LGBT youth who are at high risk of substance abuse and other problems 

AIDS/LifeCycle riders arrive at the Wednesday night camping stop at Preisker Park in Santa Maria. Click to view larger
AIDS/LifeCycle riders arrive at the Wednesday night camping stop at Preisker Park in Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“The first year I did it I really dedicated my ride to his memory and have every year since,” Villalobos said.

“That’s my motivation. I just think of all the young people we’re not reaching through sex-ed programs, outreach and through modern medicine. These kids are falling through the cracks.”

He knows that as an HIV positive man he is a “walking example” for the community, and is eager to help educate people.

“Everything single day I’ve gotten on that bike. I don’t know who I am right now,” he said. “It’s amazing. This event is so much fun.

“I hope people realize that HIV and AIDS isn’t just about the gay community. It’s really about public health.”  

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Bean bag chairs give AIDS/LifeCycle participants a comfortable spot to rest after arriving at Preisker Park in Santa Maria on Wednesday. Click to view larger
Bean bag chairs give AIDS/LifeCycle participants a comfortable spot to rest after arriving at Preisker Park in Santa Maria on Wednesday.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

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