Behind The Blend: Chris Completes the AIDS/LifeCycle Ride With A Little Help From Us!

This year we had the honor of sponsoring our star Senior Account Executive Christopher Vanek and Team Unpopular for the 2016 AIDS/LifeCycle Ride. With our help, Christopher was the top fundraiser in his group, and the first person on his team to hit his $10k fundraising goal, (actually, $10,200) and pushed Team Unpopular to be one of the top 25 teams in fundraising.

beautyblender®  provided makeup services on Day 5, most popularly known as, Red Dress Day. We set up base camp in Santa Maria with a motorhome, selfie station and breakfast burritos to fill their bellies before they hit the road at 8:30am. But the fun didn’t stop there as we eagerly awaited Christopher and Team Unpopular’s arrival at the finish line at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles clad with pink glittered mini champagne bottles, pink balloons and beautyblender necklaces and crowns. We’re so proud of Christopher and Team Unpopular!

We sat down with Christopher to discuss why he wanted to join the AIDS/LifeCycle Ride bandwagon, his most unforgettable moment of the ride this year and will there be a third ride in his future in 2017.

How many years have you been doing the AIDS/LifeCycle Ride?CHRISTOPHER VANEK: This is my second year doing the ride.

What inspired you to want to do the ride?
CV: A couple of different things inspired me. Fighting stigma was one of the biggest things that made me want to participate in this ride. When I was seventeen, I signed up to donate blood and on the questionnaire if you admit, as a man, to having sex with another man since 1985, they automatically assume that your blood is tainted. So, from seventeen, I was already stigmatized for being gay. Then, when I was 21, and I was in beauty school, we actually had a couple of teachers and several students that participated in AIDS/LifeCycle. I had always done the AIDS Walk LA and didn’t know that the AIDS/LifeCycle was an actual thing so that was kind of my first introduction to it. I knew that one day I wanted to do AIDS/LifeCycle and it was on my bucket list. When I turned 29, I was like, uh-oh, I’m almost 30, I’ve got to do something big before I can’t do it anymore. So, I decided when I was 29 to do AIDS/LifeCycle for the first time. I also did it for my partner and myself. I’m HIV-positive but Alex [his partner] isn’t. And it’s through medical advancements that we can stay serodiscordant, which means that our statuses are different. When I found out I was HIV-positive, I didn’t have insurance at the time, so I was receiving healthcare services through the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center so I really felt like it was just a time to give back to the community that gave to me when I was in need.

To clarify, it’s not a competitive race, it’s a ride, correct?
CV: It’s a ride, not a race. Everybody’s encouraged to do it. Everybody’s encouraged to finish whether you’re first, whether you’re last, whether you’re somewhere in the middle. It’s just a fun experience. They call it the “Love Bubble” because everybody’s in it together. So whether you’re really experienced or not, if you stop on the side of the road, ten people that are passing you by will ask – are you okay? do you need your tire changed? do you need water? do you need this or that? Unlike a competitive race, where everyone’s cutthroat and doesn’t care about you. There’s more of a sense of community here because we’re not doing it to win, we’re doing it to raise money for HIV and AIDS care services.

What has been one of your most memorable moments of the ride this year?
CV:  OMG, it was probably the last day because it was raining and that was from Ventura County down to Los Angeles. The route was extended. It was 70 miles that day. It was freezing and I do not do well with the cold. It was literally raining on us. They were handing out mylar emergency blankets and everyone was huddled up under tents looking like baked potatoes. But, I didn’t quit. I wanted so badly to take the SAG bus which is called the Search and Get bus, which would take me to the next rest stop and take the easy way out. I didn’t do it because the only thing that kept going through my mind was my uncle that I lost to AIDS and everyone else that’s passed away to AIDS. They’ve suffered way more than just being rained on, riding on a bicycle down the coast of Los Angeles. I just sucked it up and I did it. And of course, seeing you there, Danny and my mom there made it all worth it. Oh, and the champagne made it all worth it. It was a crazy day that was mixed with emotions but it was magical.

It was awesome to see the community come together so much to support you guys and just to be there to cheer you on. It’s such a strong support system.
CV:  Right? And that’s how it is on the entire ride. When we stopped for lunch in Bradley on Day 3, the entire neighborhood, all 102 people that live in Bradley, and they made us lunch. They showed us their new school with a fence that we helped fund last year. It’s a fundraiser for them as well as they charging us money [for the lunch] but at the same time, we’re helping their community. This is their biggest fundraiser all year long and they spend all year planning for it. Just to see people on the side of the road cheering us on or the families that came out to the candlelight vigil on Friday night, families of people that lost loved ones from the virus, it’s sad and it’s heartbreaking, but it’s also incredible to see everybody rally together and support each other.

We had so much fun with you on Red Dress Day. Is that a tradition on the fifth day?
CV: Yea, it started as Dress in Red Day because the symbol for HIV/AIDS is a red ribbon so we wanted to look like a red ribbon going down the coast of California. Then it changed to Red Dress day where everyone wears a red dress, makeup and looks crazy.

Was Team Unpopular the best looking team on Red Dress Day?
CV:  Duh! Team Unpopular looked pretty amazing thanks to the makeup services provided by beautyblender. And they all felt pretty doing it, too. They all really enjoyed it. Thank you so much for helping out with that! (Check out more fun pics here on our instagram page.)

The big question is – are you going to do the race next year?
CV:  OMG, this year was brutal! I told myself that I was going to take a year off to give my butt a rest and to give my donors a rest. But…if beautyblender had that much fun doing it and were willing to do it again, then I might be swayed one way. I might have to do it again.