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April 15, 2002

AIDS ride crosses the pond in '02

By Tia Webster and Nancy Seideman


When Susan Hunter arrived at the Health Sciences holiday party last winter, she was famished, having just completed a 75-mile bike ride with her husband, interim Provost Woody Hunter.

During her search for sustenance, Susan stopped to chat with Phil Hills, associate dean for development at the medical school, who knew a prospect when he saw one.

By the time they left the party, the Hunters were enlisted to spearhead Emory’s participation in this year’s European AIDS Vaccine Ride, to be held June 30–July 6, to raise money for HIV vaccine research. For seven days this summer, an Emory team of scientists, students, staff, alumni and others will cycle about 600 miles from Amsterdam to Paris to help fulfill their vision of an AIDS-free future.

Two university research centers––the Emory Vaccine Research Center, directed by Rafi Ahmed, and the UCLA AIDS Institute, directed by Irvin Chen––will benefit equally from proceeds raised from the European ride, as well as organizations in Europe conducting AIDS vaccine research. The event is organized by Pallotta TeamWorks of Los Angeles, organizers of the AIDSRides USA, which have provided AIDS charities around the world with more than $97 million in eight years.

Volunteering to join the ride is a natural outgrowth of the Hunters’ personal and professional interests.

“Some of the most important research in the world is being done here at Emory’s Vaccine Center,” said Woody Hunter. “Participating in the AIDS bike ride is a tangible way in which my wife Susan and I can contribute directly to the support of research that will, we hope, lead to new and effective ways to combat this dreadful disease. Because the annual bike ride is the single largest source of philanthropic support for the Vaccine Center, we hope that we can, in our own way, make this effort even more successful.”

As for personal pursuits, the Hunters began bike riding last summer, and by November Susan Hunter had reached her “century goal” of pedaling 100 miles in a single day. “After you reach that first 100-mile mark, you begin to look for what’s next,” she said.

The Hunters certainly found a worthy new challenge. They are working with Emory team leader Joe Miller, a graduate student and veteran of two AIDS vaccine rides, to recruit a team, which must raise funds to participate in the ride. To date, 10 Emo-ry community members and their friends, ranging in age from early 20s to late 50s, have signed up for the ride.

Apart from the serious purpose for the ride, Miller thrives on the community spirit of hundreds of bikers who come together for a common cause. “The community is fantastic,” he said. “Everyone pitches in to set up camp, and those who arrive first at the next destination cheer in the riders who follow.”

Each morning, the riders rise about 6 a.m., do stretching exercises, pack up their tents and gear to load into a truck, eat a hearty breakfast, then head out to pedal 80–100 miles a day. There are food stops every 20 miles––the food is “fantastic” said Miller, who still managed to drop five pounds on his last ride––and riders are accompanied by medical personnel, transport vehicles and other technical support. At the end of each night, participants sleep in a mobile “tent city,” complete with catered meals, hot showers, entertainment and “remembrance tents” for personal reflection.

The funds raised by the AIDS rides are crucial to the mission of Emory’s Vaccine Center, according to Ahmed.

“Traditional funding agencies are usually reluctant to support the bold and innovative strategies necessary for the development of an AIDS vaccine,” he said. “Funds that the Emory Vaccine Center has received from the AIDS Vaccine Ride have contributed critically to our vaccine efforts. Our investigators are beginning exciting new vaccine studies that have already achieved impressive results in the laboratory and in animals.”

Using funds from the $1.1 million contribution from the AIDS Vaccine Ride in 2000, the Vaccine Center opened the Hope Clinic this year. Led by Mark Feinberg, the clinic is devoted to conducting clinical trials of promising new vaccines and therapeutic interventions; already the vaccine team is conducting three clinical trials of promising AIDS vaccines in conjunction with Merck & Co. Inc.

For more information on joining the Emory Team, or to contribute to this year’s
ride, contact Phil Hills at 404-727-4055 or