Patrick Autissier rode his bike to victory on June 22 in the “World’s Toughest Race”, the solo Race Across America (RAAM), raising over $12,600 for Partners In Health along the way. In just 12 days, Patrick pedaled from Oceanside, CA, to Atlantic City, NJ, covering 14 states and 3050 miles. He crossed the finish line with only 10 minutes to spare. The first Frenchman ever to participate in RAAM, and an HIV researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Patrick showed once again how one person who combines talent and commitment can really help make a difference in the world.

 Directly Observed Therapy in Tomsk
Patrick Autissier celebrates with his team after completing the 3,000 mile Race Across America

Patrick has raised money for PIH while participating in RAAM for the past two years. When he first learned of RAAM, he found himself “fascinated” but later decided that beyond the amazing personal challenge, “it would be a shame to do the race without helping people”. He heard about PIH from a friend and was “amazed by the work” and after reading Mountains Beyond Mountains found himself also “fascinated by Paul Farmer He decided to use his athletic skills to help PIH help those most in need.

“People often wonder what they can do as individuals to help PIH further its mission in tending to the most destitute sick," says Ed Cardoza, Director of Development at Partners In Health. "One of the ways individuals can have significant impact is by using a challenging event to raise funds for PIH and to use the event as a way to advocate for our work."

“Patrick has chosen to do this par excellence by participating in the solo RAAM," Cardoza continued. "In doing so he became one of only 153 men around the world to officially finish the race since 1982. This difficult journey, when linked to the difficult hardship of our patients, becomes an act of solidarity. Patrick has not only brought significant funds for our patients, he has used the race, his website, his newsletters, as a way of drawing support and interest to issues from which many simply avert their gaze.”

Patrick certainly has not averted his gaze. This is the third year in which he has helped fundraise for causes that are important to him.

“What makes Patrick an extraordinary person is that he wants to use this gift, this athletic ability he has, not for his own victories, but to raise awareness about and money for the long journeys through which many people struggle everyday. If all athletes had this kind of social consciousness, the world would most certainly be a better place,” says Dr. Joia Mukherjee, PIH’s medical director. Besides raising money this year for PIH and for another organization, Nashoba Learning Group, Patrick has done fundraising every year he has cycled in RAAM.

In 2005, Patrick participated in RAAM solo but dropped out of the race half way through. In 2006, he started a team, “Athletes Racing for Charity” (ARC), dedicated to partnering athletes with their favorite charities. Team ARC finished second in the four-man team category by completing the race in a little over 6 days and 13 hours.

Race Across America, held every year, is a frantic pull to the finish line over more than 3,000 miles of mountains and prairies, steamy summer days and sub-freezing nights high in the Rockies. Solo and team riders have “crews” that follow them to make sure they stay healthy and to provide them with mechanical assistance, moral support, and food. This year Patrick had nine crew members, including his wife and daughter.

Racers stop only briefly to eat and sleep. In the first 24 hour stretch of this year’s race, Patrick biked 341 miles and slept for only half an hour. More typical day, however, consisted of more than 20 hours in the saddle, fueled by two to four hours of sleep and 8,000 to 10,000 calories of food. Patrick got those calories from a combination of normal meals, like pasta salad and hamburgers, and liquid meals packed with calories.

What’s next for Patrick? He says he is going to focus on triathlons for the next year or so in order to spend more time with his family. “Training and preparing a race like RAAM is huge and adding fundraising makes it even more difficult to do”, says Autissier. But he plans on participating in RAAM again in 2009 and will continue fundraising for worthy causes.

You can learn more about Patrick and donate to PIH or to his other fundraising effort, Nashoba Learning Group, by letting your fingers do the cycling to his website.

[published July 2007]