“Go Richard! Go Richard! We love you!” That’s what Atlantic Beach resident Richard Brodsky heard while he was running in the Boston Marathon last month.
The 70-year-old is no stranger to marathon running, but everywhere he goes, he is reminded of why he runs. “Just because you have HIV and brain cancer doesn’t mean your life is over,” he said.
Brodsky, a former architect, was 45 in 1997, when he received an HIV-positive diagnosis. He had to tell his wife, Jodi Brodsky, about the diagnosis and admit to her that he is bisexual.
“It was the worst day of my life,” he said. “It really was.”
He didn’t know how she would react, but she supported him. In 2002, he wrote a book called “Jodi, the Greatest Love Story Ever Told,” which was a gift to her for keeping the marriage whole and their family together. They have three daughters.
During a book signing that year, Richard suffered a seizure at a Barnes & Noble in Greenwich Village, and was rushed to a hospital. He was diagnosed with brain cancer, unrelated to his HIV.
After months of treatments, he ran the 2003 New York City Marathon. After that, he came up with the idea of dedicating his life to those not fortunate enough to have the excellent medical care he had.
“Two-thirds of the people that die from AIDS live in Africa, and it’s because they didn’t have access to the medicine,” he explained. “So I wanted to raise awareness, and it was tough getting anyone to take me seriously.”
He launched the Richard M. Brodsky Foundation in 2004. Its goal was not only to raise money for research for a cure or vaccine for AIDS, but also to provide food, medical care, shelter and shoes for orphans in Kenya.
“He is very strong about supporting what he does,” Jodi said. “I am glad to go along with that.”
Worlds Aids Day, marked on Dec. 1, acknowledges the 40 million people who have died of AIDS worldwide, and the Brodskys organized the World Aids Marathon in Africa for 15 years. Last December, they brought the event to Rockaway Park, in Far Rockaway, where it will be held again this year. In mid-December, they will make another in a series of trips to Kenya.
“We feed, like, a thousand orphans, and are providing medical care and are bringing doctors there,” Richard said. “They really appreciate it, and I feel very blessed that we’re able to travel there every year. It’s a real working vacation. It’s not like going to the Bahamas, but we get so much joy from going there.”
One doctor who takes part is Richard Sartori, whom Brodsky met in 2008. Sartori serves on the foundation’s board, has joined the Brodskys in Kenya more than 10 times and has examined and treated over 1,000 orphans since 2011.
“I feel really blessed I was able to connect with the Brodskys and get this opportunity in life,” Sartori said. “I hope to go until I can’t go anymore.”
Sartori runs a pediatric practice in Garden City. When he visits Africa, he brings a stethoscope, an interpreter and a range of medications. “I see things (there) that I’ve never seen here,” he said. “It is eye-opening, and it is different. I always pray that I see the same kids from last year.”
Besides providing medical treatment, Sartori also makes personal connections with the Kenyan people by feeding and dancing with them. He said that many remember him, and shake his hand when he returns.
Last month, the Brodskys and Sartori were honored by President Biden with Lifetime Achievement Awards. The award recognizes people who have devoted more than 6,000 hours to volunteering.
“It was quite an honor,” Jodi said. “Richard was able to give a speech about it, and I was able to give some feedback. Some people have organizations and after a while they lose interest or energy, and we never feel like that.”
Since its inception, the Brodsky foundation has raised about $555,000, and Richard hopes to continue running marathons alongside his wife until he’s 100 — health permitting, he said.