CALISTOGA — Cyclist Tom Sherman isn’t just riding for his life; he’s riding for the lives of all those people who have yet to confront the kind of horror he has endured.
Sherman, 62, is in training for the 11th annual AIDS/LifeCycle, a 545-mile fundraising trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It departs June 3 and winds up in Southern California six days later.
He has committed to raise at least $5,300 for AIDS-related services and research and he is hoping to bring in at least $7,000.
The mere fact that Sherman, a member of the Calistoga Bicycle Advisory Committee, is even able to think of taking the ride is amazing.
He’s been living with HIV for more than 30 years; he was infected sometime before 1983. He developed full-blown AIDS in the early 1990s and edged near to death before being pulled back by then-groundbreaking drugs known as protease inhibitors and his own work in Eastern healing practices.
“I was infected before we even knew (AIDS) existed. … I spent all of 1995 getting ready to die, saying goodbye to family and friends,” he said.
Today, however, he is healthy and an active bike rider. He’s on the lowest possible level of anti-HIV medication, and to look at him, you’d never know the torment his body endured.
That’s why he’s agreed to do the punishing ride, his first time in the annual event. He’s been preparing by doing training rides of 80 miles or more.
His objective is not just to raise money, but to bring a message to a younger generation who may have become complacent about AIDS. They are not old enough to remember the fear and the sorrow that AIDS brought, first to the gay community and later to larger society, in the 1980s and ’90s.
He said what convinced him to take the ride was a video organizers posted on their website showing riders passing through small rural towns along the route, with families lined up to see the riders zip by.
Sherman’s eyes well up with tears as he thinks about the effect the ride may have on the young people who see him ride.
“It’s consciousness-raising and educational for these kids,” he said. “It provides parents the moment for them to have the conversation.
“The kids have never known about AIDS and what we went through,” he said, “but they are at risk.”
Sherman’s own journey with AIDS began as a gay man living in 1970s San Francisco, but he didn’t know he was infected for up to a decade. He found out he was HIV-positive in 1987, but he had been in an exclusive relationship with the same partner since 1983, and his partner turned out to be HIV-negative. Sherman guesses he was infected sometime around 1979.
After watching many friends die in San Francisco, he decided to move to Hawaii to live in paradise for what he assumed were his final years.
As his health worsened, he was forced to close his successful business as an organizational consultant. By chance, however, he was selected as one of only 2,000 people worldwide to get access to the new protease inhibitors.
Within a year, Sherman was well enough to work again, but he found he wanted to do something new with his life. He had encountered traditional Asian healing methods involving chakras, the seven energy centers in the body, and he found it helpful in his own recovery. He decided to study the practice, and simultaneously became a licensed massage therapist.
Today he calls himself “Chakraman” and sees clients in Calistoga and Oakland.
Sherman’s near brush with death has given him an abiding passion to help people, both through his healing practice and through his work fundraising for AIDS services.
“It was very clear that my life was saved,” he said of his near-miraculous recovery. “I had buried all my friends, I was preparing to die, and I was spared.”