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Ross Forman, Windy City Times: AIDS Greg Louganis keeps on ‘diving’ against HIV/AIDS

AIDS Greg Louganis keeps on ‘diving’ against HIV/AIDS
by Ross Forman, August 24, 2011

Despite all of the medical advances over the past 30 years in the battle against HIV-AIDS, or perhaps because of them, Greg Louganis is still worried for the younger generation. Very worried, in fact.

“The most upsetting thing is, kids still think that they don’t need to be safe in their sexual behavior [ because ] there are medications,” that treat the disease, Louganis, who was diagnosed HIV-positive 23 years ago, said in an exclusive interview with Windy City Times. “A lot of the treatments that I’ve had have been incredibly debilitating—and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. We know how to prevent HIV through sexual contact. If you love someone, you are going to show them that you love them by taking care of yourself and them. Protecting yourself and them.”

Just as Louganis and his partner of four years do. Daniel McSwiney was HIV-negative when they started dating. McSwiney still is HIV-negative.

Louganis, 51, is one of the most accomplished and decorated divers in U.S. history. He is a three-time Olympian ( 1976, 1984, 1988 ) who no doubt would have only added to his golden resume had the U.S. not boycotted the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow.

Louganis won gold medals in 1984 in both the springboard and tower diving events. Four years later, he did it again in Seoul—but not without drama. Louganis suffered a concussion after hitting his head on the springboard during the preliminary rounds while performing a reverse 2-1/2 pike. He ultimately completed the preliminaries despite the injury, and went on to repeat a similar dive during the finals, earning the gold medal. Louganis was named “1988 Athlete of the Year” by ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

Medical personnel in Seoul did not have latex gloves on the swimming deck at the time, and Louganis’ HIV status later was a major topic in regards to that incident.

“It’s important for people to know how they may get HIV, but also important for them to know how they are not going to get HIV,” Louganis said.

Louganis is now an athlete mentor to USA Diving. He travels across the U.S., working with Olympic hopefuls for diving and their coaches. He observes their programs and makes improvement recommendations, address issues that concern the athletes and more.

He also is a certified judge for USA Diving and is judging the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.

“Things are going well for me,” said Louganis, who also has been leading dive camps, such as a recent successful one at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center.

“I was diagnosed [ HIV-positive ] 23 years ago … a lot has changed since then. It’s kind of a mixed blessing. People are living longer in general, but, the message that it sends to the kids is, ‘Oh, this can be treated with a pill.’ The only problem with that mentality is, I wouldn’t wish my drug regimen on anyone and also, not everyone tolerates the drugs the same. The drugs, for instance, metabolize differently in women. Plus, there are not a lot of studies [ about the medicine ] on kids. Plus, they see Magic Johnson out there, relatively healthy,” so some don’t worry about an HIV diagnosis.

“Prevention is key. Of course it’s better to not have to deal with it. Protection. Just play safe.”

Louganis said learning he was HIV-positive was, naturally, a trying time, to say the least. “Thank God I had diving at the time,” he said. “My thought when I was diagnosed as HIV-positive was, it was a death sentence.”

Louganis was, at the time, training in Florida for the 1988 Olympic Games—and confused about what to do.

” [ I ] was [ thinking about ] going to do the honorable thing—pack my bags, move back home, lock myself in my home and just wait to die,” Louganis admits. “My cousin, who was my doctor, said the healthiest thing for me to do was to continue training.”

When he learned he was HIV-positive, doctors could not tell how long he had been living with the disease.

It was, he admits, “almost like a healthy denial of the whole situation.”

And he had to deal with depression.

“As long as I was busy, I was fine because I wasn’t thinking about it. [ Diving ] gave me a way of coping with HIV,” he said.

Louganis’ treatment today is medication twice-a-day.

“The medications have changed a lot” over the years, Louganis said. “There was a big issue over a period of time when the protease inhibitors came out, and compliance was a huge issue because there were huge side-effects of the medications, including diarrhea.”

Louganis said he wanted to bring AIDS patient Ryan White to Seoul, “to share my Olympic experience with him, and yet they wouldn’t allow him in the country because of his HIV status.

“We’ve come a long way [ with the disease ] , but have a long way to go. Education and prevention are the keys.”

Louganis said his HIV status rarely is discussed within his current diving roles—and he doesn’t fear the disease, as he once did.

“I don’t panic about it anymore, like I used to,” Louganis said. “Before, every sniffle, every tickle in the throat … anything and everything [ medically ] made you think, ‘Oh my God, this is it.'”

So where will HIV/AIDS be in another 30 years?

“I have no idea,” Louganis said. “I don’t expect [ doctors ] will find a cure in my lifetime, but I’m more than willing to be the guinea pig to try to make headway into learning about the disease.”

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