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Stephanie Silkaitis journey started before she got to the start line.
Shes training for the 2013 AIDS Run & Walk Chicago and plans to run the entire 5K without walking, but her goal extends beyond the race course. Her uncle died from complications with AIDS in 2002, and running is her way of standing by his side and erasing the stigma he endured.
I will probably never experience as much pain as my uncle did, Stephanie said, and his memory gets me to tie my running shoes and go outside to train.
She was young at the time of his death, growing up in a conservative household. When her uncle was diagnosed with HIV, Stephanie saw how stigmatizing the disease could be. Her family began to separate from her uncle and consequently, she wasnt able to develop a close relationship with him.
Still, Stephanie recalls him being her favorite uncle and his deep love for dogs, especially Spike, a mixed breed that went everywhere with him. Stephanie misses him and finds it important to understand now what he endured.
As I became an adult, she said, I grew sad that my family didnt choose to educate themselves about HIV/AIDS and consequently, they didnt understand somebody who was so close to them.
Stephanie has a friend who was recently diagnosed with HIV, another reason shes stepping up her advocacy efforts around this disease.
Last year, she volunteered at the AIDS Run & Walk and promised that she would run the race this yearonly her second 5K. True to her word, shes doing it, and shes the captain of the Sparks Girls fundraising team, which aims to raise $2,500 for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.
Stephanie is passionate about fighting the stigma around this disease.
Even though weve come a long way since even 2002, people who are HIV positive carry a label they shouldnt have to.
Through her running and fundraising, Stephanie has formed a relationship with her uncle in his death that she didnt have when he was alive. Whats more, her family is rallying behind her.
If they werent able to support my uncle a decade ago, Stephanie said, they can support him now. And thats exactly what theyre doing.
If youd like to make a contribution to Stephanies fundraising efforts, please visit her donation page.
You can also join Stephanie on the 5K course or sign up for the 10K. Both distances offer running and walking divisions.
AIDS Run & Walk Chicago will take place on Saturday, September 28 at Soldier Field. Pre-registration ends on Wednesday, September 18, so register today!
Categorized under Inside Story.