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  WINDY CITY TIMES

AIDS: Wally Henry, multi-sport fighter against AIDS
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2011-12-21

This article shared 5327 times since Wed Dec 21, 2011
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Wally Henry played basketball and football at DeLaSalle High School on Chicago's South Side, and never ran more than a mile—at least on his own. Still, he always admired Ironman competitions, which feature swimming, bicycling and running, and even watched them on TV whenever he could.

Then early last year, while riding the train, Henry spotted an ad for the Team To End AIDS ( T2 ) , the endurance-training program of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) .

Henry was hooked, immediately.

He registered for the 2010 Chicago Triathlon and trained with T2.

But the heat on race day turned the event into "hell" he said.

Swimming is his strongest event, and he was pleasant with that leg. The biking was so-so, he said; Henry had never pedaled that far. The running, though, well, that was tough, definitely impacted by the weather conditions.

Still, he finished in 3:19.23.

"I bragged for a couple of months," Henry said, laughing.

Henry raised about $2,400 last year, though his goal was $1,800.

"After the 2010 Chicago Triathlon, I immediately made up my mind to come back and [ set a Personal Record time ] . Sure, I finished the [ 2010 ] event, but I knew I could do better. My competitiveness took over," Henry said.

So, this past April, Henry registered for the 2011 Chicago Triathlon through T2—and kept registering.

"I looked at all of the [ endurance-training ] events that T2 offered and just figured, why not do them all?!" Henry said.

Ultimately, Henry registered for five of six endurance-training events through T2, including the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 9 and the Honolulu Marathon Dec. 11. ( At the last minute, Henry was forced to withdraw from the Honolulu Marathon, despite fulfilling his fundraising commitment. )

Why do all those events? "Because I'm crazy," he said, laughing.

The lone T2 event that Henry did not do was the 100-mile ride from Wrigley Field to Miller Park in Milwaukee. "I couldn't ride 100 miles to see the Cubs; I'm a Sox fan," he said.

Henry, nicknamed Mookie, 30, lives in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood. He is single, straight and works as a security guard.

Henry's goal for 2011 is to raise $6,000 for AFC, and he's less than $1,000 away.

"I've always wanted to help people, and this really gave me another outlet to help people," said Henry, who is HIV-negative. "One of the biggest things in the Black community now is HIV/AIDS. I kind of feel like a lot of people don't care [ about the disease ] . People are still having unprotected sex with random partners, not getting tested. For some who are HIV-positive, it is almost taboo in the Black community to talk about HIV/AIDS. Many who are HIV-positive are shunned within the Black community.

"I'm just trying to do something about it, to help the fight."

He has had to battle rumors about his charity-of-choice: Many people have just assumed he is HIV-positive because he supports AFC, Henry said.

"They don't realize that, even though I am HIV-negative, the disease still affects me, as it does almost everyone. It's in my area," said Henry, who trains with HIV-positive competitors with T2.

And with many gay runners, too.

"Triathlon is not a sport that Black people typically do. A lot of folks [ in the Black community ] don't even know what a triathlon is," Henry said. "Raising money for T2 and the AFC is, in my opinion, the best way I can go about helping the community and those impacted by HIV and AIDS. And it's been very rewarding for me personally. Knowing what I'm doing and the funds that I'm raising will help people affected by HIV/AIDS is very rewarding."

Cecilia Pina Boyd, team manager for T2, said that Henry's 2011 accomplishments are, "awesome, courageous and inspiring, with a side of crazy."

"I find it courageous above all because he is not only putting himself through a year of physical and mental training necessary for all five programs, but, he inadvertently stigmatizes himself raising money for this important cause," Boyd said. "In conversations I've had with Mookie, he expressed that he initially had a major challenge with his fundraising because, as a Black, straight male, he got a lot of questions and ignorant comments from his own friends regarding his participation [ with the ] Team To End AIDS. People either automatically assumed he was gay or had HIV. Truth is, he is doing our programs to bring awareness and promote education around this epidemic that has a substantial impact on the Black community."

Henry is one of the top 10 T2 fund-raisers this year.

"I think he has been a great advocate through his Facebook and Twitter posts [ for T2 and AFC ] , promoting [ to ] everyone to get tested and know the facts about this disease," Boyd said. "It is important to not only T2 and AFC, but to the Black community as a whole, to have advocates like Mookie.

"In a program that has high participation from the white, gay community, mainly from the North Side [ of Chicago ] , Mookie has shown that a straight, Black man from the South Side of Chicago can not only do endurance events, but can also be a huge fundraising force in the T2 program. I hope that his participation this year encourages others from the Black community to take part in Team To End AIDS in the future."

Henry admits he, "wasn't the type who'd roll down to Boystown and hang out at a bar there," but he certainly grew and matured about gay people.

"I wasn't homophobic," he said. "But being around and training with so many gay men, it has taken away my ignorance and naïve thoughts/perceptions of the gay community. That has really helped me."

Before last summer, Henry only knew a few gay men. Being openly gay also was a stigma to some within his walks in the Black community.

Henry said he truly cherishes the friendships he's made with gay participants in T2.

"I love those gays. They are characters," he said, smiling. "They openly talk [ in front of me ] about other guys, the same way I talk about women around them. We all get along very well."

Henry said he plans to return to T2 in 2012. In fact, he plans to compete in 10 or 11 endurance-training events next year.

This story is part of the Local Reporting Initiative, supported in part by The Chicago Community Trust.


This article shared 5327 times since Wed Dec 21, 2011
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