ABOVE: SMART Ride 18. Photo courtesy Joy Winheim.
ST. PETERSBURG | Empath Partners in Care is seeking community support as the nonprofit cycles into its first year as a beneficiary of The SMART Ride, currently scheduled for its two-day, 165-mile bicycle ride from Miami to Key West in late November.
Participants in the annual event, the only ride of its size to donate 100% of funds collected to its cause, have raised nearly $14 million for AIDS service organizations throughout Florida since 2003. EPIC was named as a beneficiary for this year’s 19th ride in January.
As a member of Empath Health, the nonprofit has supported Tampa Bay patients since 1977. EPIC Executive Director Joy Winheim and others crewed SMART Ride 18 after the Tampa Bay region’s previous beneficiary opted not to continue in the role.
“We are thrilled to have Joy and the EPIC team with us this year,” Weinzimer told Watermark in January. “Joy has done an amazing job representing and being an advocate this past year on the ride and it was a unanimous decision to ask them to be a full benefiting agency.”
In appreciation for their efforts last year, SMART Ride also presented EPIC with an unexpected $60,000 donation.
“It was an honor for our EPIC team to have participated as crew members during the 2021 SMART Ride,” the organization shared afterwards. “Thank you, SMART Ride, for making a BIG impact in the HIV community.”
Winheim says the funds are being utilized to provide for patients in unique and exciting ways, from offering personalized client services to covering costs at EPIC’s Sexual Health Center. The facility specializes in sexually transmitted infection testing/treatment and opened last year.
“We’ve been able to provide things that have no way of being covered by insurance,” she explains. “We get used to having to say no to clients and it’s allowed us to say yes.” One patient received funds for transportation while another received hearing aids.
In preparation for this year’s ride, EPIC has formed a new SMART Ride team of participants. “We are EPIC” consists of 11 riders and three crew members, positions which are described as “the most important support system we have to keep our riders safe, physically fit and cared for” by organizers.
They include licensed massage therapists, doctors, nurses and RNs, physical therapists, chiropractors, truck drivers and first responders. Winheim says that while crewing can be more difficult than cycling, it’s a week you’ll never forget in either role.
EPIC hopes to find at least 25 people to round out their team. “There’s no limit to how many people can join,” Winheim explains. “In our first year we just want to show SMART Ride how committed EPIC is to making sure we do our part to help raise money for agencies across the state.”
Fundraising is well underway for this year’s ride, something representatives from “We are EPIC” and other local teams including the Tampa Bay Area Cyclists will discuss with potential participants April 16. The information session will be held at Inclusivitea in St. Petersburg from 10 a.m.-noon, with other opportunities to learn more coming soon throughout Tampa Bay.
“None of the teams care which team you join,” Winheim notes. “Just join us. SMART Ride is such an amazing event where people all come together.
“If you think you can’t ride, you can,” she continues. “If you think you can’t crew, you can. If you don’t really want to do either one of those, join us for a fundraiser! It really is such a great cause to be involved in and an amazing week that you will not regret.”
SMART Ride 19 will be held Nov. 18-19. To learn more about joining “We are EPIC” as a cyclist or crew member, email Joy Winheim at JoyWinheim@EmpathHealth.org. To donate funds and learn more about this year’s ride and EPIC, visit TheSMARTRide.org and MyEPIC.org.