My close friend Patrick Fox, then 32 names of people I had never met. And 32 more. And 32 more. And 32 more. And the list of names I read out loud, along with those read out loud by the Kiehl's LifeRide for amfAR (Foundation for AIDS Research) team, continued at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, July 21. These were the names of people who had passed away from AIDS. There are far too many of them.
As I stood there in the pouring rain at the AIDS Quilt Memorial Service the day before the commencement of the 19th International AIDS Conference, I became overwhelmed with emotion. Throughout my life, I have met so many incredible people living with HIV/AIDS and have lost a friend to it, too. In 1996 I watched one of my dearest friends, Patrick, die from AIDS. I will never forget him, that experience, and how it made me feel. To this day, thinking about it still evokes great sadness. Therefore, doing anything possible in the fight against HIV/AIDS has always been very personal and very important to me.
HIV/AIDS awareness and research, along with the environment and children's causes, has also been very important to Kiehl's and has long been at the forefront of our philanthropic efforts. Aaron Morse, one of Kiehl's founding family members, wrote, "A worthwhile firm must have a purpose for its existence. Not only the everyday work-a-day purpose to earn a just profit, but beyond that, to improve in some way the quality of the community to which it is committed." Our dedication to our three pillar causes is our way of honoring his mission. Over the past two decades, Kiehl's has donated more than $2 million to HIV/AIDS awareness and research. Writing a check and raising funds for the cause is necessary, but a few years ago I decided I had to do more. HIV isn't as top-of-mind with people as it used to be, but it is still prevalent. More than 50,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with HIV each year. I wanted to get people talking about it again. Therefore, my team and I created the annual Kiehl's LifeRide for amfAR, a charity motorcycle ride led by me, along with the CEO of amfAR and some celebrity friends, to raise money and awareness for the cause.
To date, we have completed three LifeRides for amfAR and one shorter motorcycle ride for amfAR, Desert Run. This year's LifeRide began in Miami on July 13 and ended in Washington, D.C., this past Saturday, July 21. While I have led each ride, this one was by far the most special to me, mainly because it was the most challenging. Things went wrong, from a blown tire to a broken throttle to several bike breakdowns to a car that had to be pulled out of the mud with a cable to a motorcycle accident -- my motorcycle accident.
On the morning of day six of LifeRide, we left the Inn at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., and got on Route 66. Not far into the ride, my Harley Davidson broke down. We didn't want to lose time because we had a lot of ground to cover that day, so I traded the Harley for my chopper, Damian. We continued riding into the breathtaking but windy Blue Ridge Mountains. Everything was going well until we hit an unexpected, sharp turn. I tried to slow down, but I couldn't drop my speed fast enough. I have been riding motorcycles since I was 12 years old, but even experience couldn't help me here. I saw dense brush and a bunch of trees and knew I was headed straight for them. Then, my bike hit one of the trees, throwing me onto the ground. I began rolling down the mountain with great momentum. I tucked my head and focused solely on slowing myself down. In the process, I managed to swing myself around, caught some ground with my feet and grabbed the dirt with my hands. There were trees everywhere, but somehow I was able to avoid them all. When I finally stopped, I could see and hear fellow riders Grant Reynolds and amfAR CEO Kevin Frost flying into the forest to reach me. They helped me back to the road. I was rattled and in a bit of shock, but aside from a few scrapes, I was OK, due to always wearing the correct protection.
At the end of the day, I had some time to reflect on the accident. I couldn't get over everything that had happened. I knew the accident could have been much worse. For a moment I asked myself, "Should I get back on a bike tomorrow?" But the idea was fleeting. I thought about Patrick, those who have passed away from AIDS, and those who are still living with and fighting HIV/AIDS. It reminded me that this ride is important, and I couldn't give up. Regardless of what happened, I had to continue, just like we have to continue on the road to ending AIDS. There are twists, turns, bumps, breakdowns, even crashes along the way, but we can't give up. There are too many people counting on us to keep going.
The next morning, sore and bandaged, I got back on my bike and rode the rest of the way to D.C. After 1,800 miles, a blown tire, a broken throttle, the bike breakdowns, soaring heat, torrential rain, a car that got stuck in the mud, and my motorcycle accident, we made it. Despite all the challenges, we had actually finished. And we are going to continue to do this until AIDS is finished. Until there is a vaccine. Until there is a cure. Until the first AIDS Quilt panel, which says, "The Last One," is sewn onto the quilt. And then we will ride for a new cause. This is our Kiehl's legacy.