Friday, November 30, 2001
Steamboat Springs Cold white breaths blew out candles Friday night. It was an image fitting for a vigil remembering the nearly 22 million lives snuffed out by AIDS.
Over 50 people gathered in front of the Routt County Courthouse's wooden doors as part of the World AIDS Day remembrance that Steamboat Springs observed a day early.
While not a single AIDS death has been reported in Routt County, many who had gathered on the courthouse lawn Friday wanted to spread the message that the 20-year pandemic still reaches Steamboat.
"People think (AIDS) is going away. There are so many people who are living with it longer. But it's important to keep awareness going. It's a very dangerous disease and effects lots and lots of people, whether it effects Routt County or not," Gardner Flanigan said.
One person it has affected is Shannon Behning, who came from Denver to share her story of living with AIDS. In 1992, Behning, a native of Greeley, tested positive for HIV at the age of 25 and has been taking AIDS drug treatments for the past few years.
Behning, who travels to schools to talk about AIDS and HIV, said she wanted to educate others about those who are outside the stereotypical AIDS victim, someone like Behning from a small town in a potential life-long relationship, and still susceptible to HIV and AIDS
"I grew up in Greeley, a small town away from the center of the epidemic. You believe only bad things happen in cities and not in small towns," said Behning, who acquired the disease from her then fiancn a small Nebraska town. "I want people's opinion to change, that it can happen in rural areas."
The Visiting Nurses Association and Planned Parenthood invited Behning to the candle light vigil. The two groups organized the local observation that is part of an international day of remembrance for AIDS victims, which the World Health Organization began in1988.
Kay Borvansky, who helped organize the event through the VNA, said she was not surprised by Friday's turnout.
"It shows there are people that have been affected and do care about AIDS," Borvansky said.
Before flames flickered on candles and Behning spoke, Jan Levy, who stood beside Flanigan, said she saw AIDS as an important health issue with a serious social stigma.
Last summer, Levy raised money for AIDS victims when she rode her bike from Anchorage to Fairbanks, Alaska. She was surprised by the community support she received while raising money for the bike ride
"Before I started, I expected not to get that much support. But it was amazing, we raised over $2,600 in two hours of fund raising," Levy said.
The VNA and Planned Parenthood decided to observe Worlds AIDS Day a day before the official date to raise awareness and pass out red ribbons people can wear in remembrance of those who have died of the disease.
For Jill Leary, who stood in the back of the crowd holding a candle Friday, someone special will be remember today, her bother who died of AIDS in 1993.
"We always support everything that has to do with AIDS," she said.