In 2013, Neil Halpin’s coworkers encouraged him to sign up for a half marathon in Las Vegas at the same time as a work conference they were attending. Reluctantly, Neil, who was not an experienced runner, agreed and started training. At the last minute the conference was cancelled, forcing Neil and his coworkers to skip the race. To his surprise, Neil was disappointed.
Although he didn’t enjoy running, Neil realized that something kept drawing him to it. Two years later he entered and won the lottery for the Berlin Marathon. Neil recalls struggling while training, never running more than 12 or 13 miles at a time while he prepared for the race, but he stuck with it and finished his first marathon in 2015.
The following year, excited by the experience of running a marathon but still not enjoying the training process, Neil knew he needed to change how he ran. One of his coworkers suggested that he join TEAM TO ENDS AIDS (T2), an endurance-training charity team that raises money for AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) and other HIV-related organizations. Neil joined T2 and immediately noticed the difference that running alongside a group of kind, supportive athletes made.
“The whole training experience was radically different and positive from the year that I ran on my own,” Neil said.
Training with T2 not only improved Neil’s running ability, it also gave him a sense of purpose. Like many who came of age in the 1990s, Neil became aware of the HIV epidemic and the impact it had on the LGBTQ+ community, as well as the importance of organizations working to minimize that impact. After moving to Chicago some 20 years later, Neil wanted to continue supporting organizations that were combatting the HIV epidemic and joining T2 gave him the chance to do so.
“On every single run, even if it’s a short run, there are a million reasons not to (run),” Neil said. “That’s the reason I run for AIDS Foundation Chicago. I need that (motivation) of not just doing this for myself but doing this for a cause.”
Two years later, after successfully finishing multiple marathons with T2, Neil encouraged his friend, Gabe Nieves, to join the team and run alongside him. Like Neil, Gabe was apprehensive about running at first. He had always been inspired by the idea of running a marathon but didn’t think that he could do it. However, T2’s mission resonated deeply with Gabe, who had friends and colleagues who were living with HIV and benefitted directly from the services that T2 helps fund. Because of this, Gabe decided to give it a shot.
The following year, Neil and Gabe ran the Chicago Marathon and the New York City Marathon with T2. Gabe recalls entering the T2 headquarters after finishing the Chicago Marathon and being met with cheers and hugs from the rest of the team.
“It was just one of those moments where I knew that not only were we able to help an amazing organization that helps thousands of people,” Gabe said. “I was also able to personally achieve something that I never thought I could do."
Neil and Gabe’s marathon ventures have only continued in the years since. This year, Neil completed his 11th marathon and Gabe finished his fifth, after running marathons in Berlin, London and Chicago in a three-week span.
Although T2 does not participate in the marathons in Berlin or London, Neil and Gabe didn’t let that stop them from continuing to support people living with HIV. In London, the pair fundraised and ran for Terrence Higgins Trust, a sexual health and HIV charity that provides services and assistance for people living with HIV in the United Kingdom.
“The bigger picture now is discovering my passion for running and supporting the organizations that support HIV and AIDS initiatives,” Gabe said.
As for the future, Neil and Gabe have no plans to slow down. Despite both men initially doubting their running abilities, the two have consistently pushed themselves to run further, faster and more frequently. Whether through fundraising or running, Gabe and Neil continue to expand their goals, and encourage others to do the same.
“Anyone can run a marathon,” Neil said.
To learn more about TEAM TO END AIDS (T2), click here. To register to run the 2022 Bank of America Chicago Marathon with T2, click here.
Categorized under Advocacy, AFC news, Chicago, Illinois and Inside Story.