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Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012

Ryan Braun Discusses AIDS Walk, Reflects on the Season

The MVP hosts Saturday’s fundraiser at the Summerfest grounds

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In the fight against AIDS, Wisconsin has an advantage over other states. The AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW) provides some of the most comprehensive care in the country, offering HIV patients not only medical and dental treatments, but also mental health services and access to a food pantry and social services—essential assistance, since 90% of HIV patients live in poverty, and more than 50% suffer from mental illness or addiction. Last year the ARCW treated more than 1600 patients, with notable success: 78% of the center’s patients have an undetectable viral load, a number that’s three times better than the national average. Other states are taking note and looking to ARCW as an example. This fall Ohio opened its own AIDS Resource Center, modeled largely around ARCW’s integrated model.

There’s still a lot of work left. New HIV infections in Wisconsin are up a discouraging 19% this year, the result, most likely, of a younger generation that didn’t witness the ’80s AIDS epidemic firsthand underestimating the severity of the disease and of the side effects of treating it. To cover its operating budget, which also covers education, prevention and testing services, the ARCW relies on fundraisers like its largest event, the annual AIDS Walk Wisconsin, which takes place Saturday at the Summerfest grounds. Over 22 years, the event has raised more than $10.5 million for the cause.

This year the event’s honorary chair is Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun, serving in a role that has previously been filled by Al Gore, Magic Johnson and Justin Vernon, as well as fellow Wisconsin athletes Paul Molitor and Clay Matthews. On Tuesday afternoon, ahead of the final Brewers games of the year, the Shepherd Express spoke to the reigning National League MVP about his involvement with the AIDS Walk, his assessment of the 2012 season, and his predictions for next year’s team.

You’ll be at this weekend’s walk, and I think I speak for a lot of Milwaukeeans when I say that’s bittersweet, because we would have liked to have seen you have other plans on Saturday. But this must be a pretty good consolation, right?


[Laughs] Absolutely. I think I would have preferred to have gone to the playoffs this season as well, but I’m excited about being at the AIDS Walk on Saturday. I’m hoping to see as many people out there as possible with me.

What led you to get involved with this event?


I just think it’s a tremendous cause. I’m excited to be involved, to help raise awareness. When I was young, my mom would participate in a lot of AIDS walks in Los Angeles. She also did AIDS bike rides, where she rode her bicycle down from San Francisco to L.A., so I understood at a young age there were a lot of people trying to help raise awareness, raise money for research and prevention and for treatment of this disease.


Is that something your mom passed on to you, a sense of responsibility to get involved with these types of causes?


Yeah, absolutely. And I feel fortunate today, being in the position I’m in, to be able to lend my name, to be involved, and to help raise awareness.

I was talking earlier with representatives from the AIDS Resource Center about what a difference it makes having a local name sign on for an event like this. It really hits home the message that this is a statewide concern, and that the money raised by this fundraising stays in the state.

 
And it really is a statewide concern. This is something that we’re all faced with here, not only in Milwaukee but throughout the state, and of course throughout the entire country and the world, but the money stays here in the state of Wisconsin to help people who are fighting the disease and dealing with the disease. We’re trying to spread that message, and let people know they still have an opportunity to come out, to come join us on Saturday. You can sign up at the website, AIDSWalkwis.org, and the more people we have, the better.

Are you going to twist the arms of some of your teammates to get them come out?


Those that are still in town! [Laughs] I think a lot of them are going to take off after tomorrow. Wednesday’s our last game, so I think there are a lot of people ready to get out of town, but I’m going to get as many people out there as possible.


Is that the mentality on the team right now? Are you all ready for a bit of a break after a long season?


Yeah, definitely. Like I said earlier, I think it’s a little bittersweet. We’d certainly prefer to go on to the post-season, but for these guys, you’re away from your house, and your friends and your family for a long time, so I think people are looking forward to going home.


Hearing the team talk, it sometimes seem like they have different expectations than the fans. For the players it was clearly disappointing not making the post-season after such high hopes this spring, but for longtime fans, just seeing the team rally and play meaningful baseball through September was a treat.

You know, that’s our goal. The biggest goal was to change the culture here, and I think we’ve done that. It’s a winning environment; it’s a winning atmosphere, and our expectation is to get to the post-season. So I think it’s an amazing thing that we’re all disappointed we didn’t get to the playoffs. 2007 was my first year here, and I remember how excited everybody was that we finished over .500 for the first time. So it’s really important, and special I think, that we’ve been able to change the culture, change the mindset, and that for everybody in this organization, the expectation is to get to the playoffs now. That’s a good thing.


So playoffs are the goal again next year?


Absolutely. It’s a great thing we were able to finish so strong this year, and I really believe the momentum from this season will carry over into next year. Plus we have all the young guys who were able to come up at this level, and have success at this level, and who are hopefully that much more confident heading into the offseason and heading into training next year.


What about your performance specifically? How do you top a year that was your personal best by almost all measures? Can you expect to do it again next year?

You know, I’m always competing with myself. I know that I can always do better. I don’t necessarily set statistical goals, or do anything like that specifically, but there are always areas that I can improve in. But the biggest challenge, I think, is consistency and longevity. So the goal is to be as good as possible for as long as possible.


Any final message you are trying to spread about the AIDS Walk?


We just want as many people as possible to come out, join us on Saturday. I’ll be there, I’m looking forward to it. It should be a nice, sunny day. And again, people can check out the website, or call us on the phone at 800-348-WALK.


And I hear you’re going to give a short speech at the event.

Yeah, I’ll give a speech, sign some autographs, take some pictures, and hopefully participate in the walk itself. The more people that are out there, the better, since we’re all fighting this together.