SMART Ride 19 participants. (Photo courtesy EPIC)
TAMPA BAY | Participants in the 20th annual SMART Ride are hoping to raise $2 million for AIDS service organizations throughout Florida in the event’s final year.
Organizers announced the fundraiser’s 20th ride would be its last on Sept. 16. Participants from throughout the state will hold their final 165-mile trek from Miami to Key West Nov. 17-18 to benefit Empath Partners in Care in Tampa Bay, Miracle of Love in Central Florida, Broward House in Wilton Manors, Pridelines in Miami-Dade County, Compass Community Center in Palm Beach County and A.H. of Monroe in Monroe County.
SMART Ride Founder Glen Weinzimer told Watermark that the organization made “the right decision [at] the right time.” The 20th event will once again be presented by CAN Community Health, which calls its longtime partnership an honor.
“CAN Community Health was honored to be a part of the SMART Ride for so many years,” Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Rogelio J. Capote says. “From beneficiary to title sponsor, we have seen this event grow and flourish into life-changing moments for so many community members.
“It has been a pleasure to work with Glen and all the agencies to make a genuine and passionate impact in all the communities we serve,” he continues. “This may be the last ride, but our fight is far from over!”
EPIC Executive Director Joy Winheim agrees. She says SMART Ride’s end makes “this year’s ride is that much more important.”
“The goal is to raise $2 million,” she notes. “With 100% of the funds coming back to the agencies, it will ensure that the money we get from the 2023 ride will get us through until we figure out what’s next.”
EPIC became a benefiting agency for SMART Ride 19 after assisting the year prior. Winheim says she “had no idea what being part of the SMART Ride would mean for EPIC, and for me, when we were invited to participate in 2021. We were welcomed with open arms and immediately felt a part of this crazy family.
“I thought, ‘this is what I have been missing after almost 25 years serving this community,’” she continues. “I felt right at home and excited to begin my SMART Ride journey. I am deeply saddened that it will end as quickly as it started.”
On Feb. 8, EPIC announced that the organization received a donation of $150,985.46 from SMART Ride 19. Winheim says the funds have “created such an opportunity for EPIC to change the lives of our clients in different ways than our grants do by removing the paperwork, the income guidelines and sometimes the zip code restrictions. It let us focus on the person, their needs and how we can help them.”
“We have such a great momentum building in Tampa and EPIC is committed to exploring creating something locally,” she adds. “I have had a very preliminary conversation with Miracle of Love in Orlando about being open to talking about doing something from Tampa to Orlando … We encourage anyone that want’s to donate to donate to any of the three Tampa teams, Active Hearts, the Tampa Bay Area Cyclists or We are EPIC or to The SMART Ride. Let’s hit that $2 million goal!”
To help do that, longtime supporters like Tampa Bay’s Christian Klimas are also planning fundraisers. He’s organizing a drag show and final sendoff scheduled for Nov. 11 at Enigma in St. Petersburg.
“I’ve participated in The SMART Ride for the last 15 years and every step of the way has built a family that will outlast this final ride,” he says. “I’m heartbroken of course, but the strength of chosen families is that they stick together.
“It will certainly look different in the years to follow, but the love and dedication that has built SMART Ride to what it is will never fade,” he continues. “This is our last local farewell to an event that has impacted so many within this community.”
For more information about The SMART Ride and to donate, visit TheSMARTRide.org.