By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

Aimee Rodriguez-Zepeda (right) organized a charity bike ride to raise funds for heart disease research.

Aimee Rodriguez-Zepeda (right) organized a charity bike ride to raise funds for heart disease research.

Six years after battling cancer, Aimee Rodriguez-Zepeda learned in 2014 that she had congestive heart failure and an enlarged heart that was working at a quarter of its capacity.

Rodriguez-Zepeda, a 41-year-old former Marine, decided to use her love of motorcycles to help spread the word about heart disease. She volunteers for the American Heart Association and for the second year, she’s getting her motorcycle club in on the act with a charity ride and cookout in her hometown of Woodbridge, Virginia.

The Destination Change Ryderz Second Annual Heart Disease Charity Ride and Cookout will rev up Saturday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Hampton Inn in Woodbridge, Virginia. The ride is free, and cookout proceeds will be donated to the AHA.

“For me, heart disease is a lifetime situation,” said Rodriguez-Zepeda, a mom of four. “Instead of sitting at home complaining, I want to get out there give back and help.”

Heart failure killed Rodriguez-Zepeda’s grandmother at age 50.

“She was only 9 years older than I am now — that’s very scary,” she said. “There’s such a huge family connection.”

Rodriguez-Zepeda got into motorcycles as a teen when her dad, who died 17 years ago from a heart attack, taught her to ride. “My love of riding carried into adulthood,” she said. “As I got older, the bikes just got bigger.”

Heart failure has a shorter survival time than many types of cancer.

“Day-to-day things are never the same,” Rodriguez-Zepeda said. “You find a new happy medium to do the things you like to do.” Heart failure causes fatigue and shortness of breath, so Rodriguez-Zepeda takes extra precautions when she rides, like stopping to hydrate and wetting her clothes if it’s hot. It’s worth it for the peace and control riding gives her, she said.

“This ride is a badge of honor,” she said. “It’s my way of showing that I can’t change my diagnosis, but I can change what I do about what fate handed to me.”

The cookout starts at noon Eastern at the Hampton Inn at 1240 Annapolis Way in Woodbridge. The ride starts at 2 p.m. For more information on the ride, contact Destination Change Ryderz at destinationchangeryderz@outlook.com.