When Nancy Turner did the first AIDS Walk San Francisco, then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein was chairwoman of the walkathon and Turner finished the 10 kilometers without the use of a cane.
That was in 1987, just six years after the first AIDS cases were reported.
Today, Turner, 53, is again preparing for the annual fundraising trek through Golden Gate Park. She hasn’t missed one since 1987, despite the arthritis that sometimes forces her to use a wooden cane.
“People still need to be educated about how this happensand what can be done,” Turner said. “There’s so much more that needs to be done.”
Friends, co-workers and a member of her Castro Valley high school senior class have died from AIDS since the disease was first reported in 1981, Turner said.
There are more than 1 million people in the U.S. living with AIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly one-fourth of those infected with HIV have yet to be diagnosed and are unaware they carry the virus that has killed at least 500,000 Americans, the CDC reports.
The 6,000 participants in San Francisco’s first AIDS Walk were visionaries, many gay or lesbian-identified, who gathered to demonstrate their concerns about what was happening in their community, said Craig Miller, the walk’s founder.
“It felt like living in a city that was dying,” Miller, 46, said. “What those 6,000 people started was nothing short of a movement.”
Twenty years later, organizers of the July 16 walk in Golden Gate Park said it is expected to draw 25,000 walkers and raise about $3.5 million, roughly the same figures as last year.
While interest is waning in some other parts of the country, San Francisco runs counter to that trend, Miller said.
Through the years, Turner has collected buttons, hats, napkins, baseball caps and T-shirts from each annual event. A history buff, the Kaiser Permanente distribution supervisor hasn't thrown much of it away in two decades.
“My favorite piece of memorabilia — it makes me smile — is the 1987 first book” handed out to participants, Turner said.
Since its inception, the San Francisco walk has attracted a total of more than 325,000 walkers and raised more than $53 million for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and other local service organizations. The foundation aims to end the pandemic and the suffering caused by HIV.
When Turner first started doing the walk in 1987, she raised $67 from 24 donors, she said.
Today, she and her husband, John Hendrey, are expecting to bring in about $2,500.
“It’s my 20th walk. I’ve developed a donor pool,” Turner said.