The Maneater

Four-time Team USA Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis speaks on his life with HIV

Louganis is the second diver and only male in Olympic history to win the gold on springboard and platform in consecutive Olympic games; he won in 1984 and 1988.

Twenty years after his first visit, Greg Louganis returned to MU on World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 to speak on his journey as a gay, HIV-positive Olympic diver.

The Bond Life Sciences Center organized World AIDS Day on MU’s campus, which included the presentation in Jesse Hall of the AIDS memorial quilt created by the Names Project Foudation. There was also a panel discussion titled “A Day in the Life of HIV” with physicians and residents from the School of Medicine, social workers, members of the LGBTQ community, HIV researchers and Louganis.

Louganis honored the people he knew who have passed away from HIV and AIDS by listing their names and sharing anecdotes about them to begin his speech.

Louganis grew up in San Diego where he began diving at nine years old. He has since won five Olympic medals, five World Championship titles and 47 national titles. He is the second diver and only male in Olympic history to win the gold medal on springboard and platform in consecutive Olympic games; he won in 1984 and 1988.

During the 1988 Olympics, Louganis hit his head on the diving board and bled into the pool. He was diagnosed as HIV-positive 6 months prior, and has faced controversy for not disclosing his condition until 1994, six years after retiring from diving.

“At that moment (when I hit my head), I was paralyzed by fear because I knew I was HIV-positive,” Louganis said.

Louganis kept his health status from the public out of fear of not being allowed into Seoul for the 1988 Olympics.

“Fear and stigma are not real,” Louganis said. “It’s real to the person going through it or feeling it, but it’s an imagined prison you put yourself in. I’m a true believer in moving forward. I visit the past, but I don’t live there.”

Louganis read aloud a letter he wrote two years ago at the age of 53 to his 16-year-old self. He had written about forgiving his absent father and persevering through obstacles such as the clinical depression he has struggled with since adolescence, coming out as a gay man, an abusive relationship and living through suicide attempts. He wrote that if he could, he would hold that 16-year-old boy in his arms and tell him that he would be OK in life.

“I share this with a lot of kids because this is so valid to a lot of things that they might be going through,” Louganis said. “Everybody’s journey is different, and it doesn’t matter if you’re straight, you’re gay, you’re lesbian or bisexual, transgender or intersexual: our journey is our journey. As long as you open your heart and be open to other people, it’s going to be returned in time.”

Rain of Central Missouri and Sexual Health Advocate Peer Education provided confidential walk-in HIV testing directly before the event from 5-7 p.m. on the second floor of Jesse Hall.

After speaking, Louganis signed copies of his The New York Times bestselling 1995 autobiography, “Breaking the Surface.”

Attendees included those who are currently living with HIV or know someone who is as well as those learning about the disease for the first time.

“I think it’s fantastic to learn Greg’s story,” Columbia resident Carl Baysinger said. “It’s inspirational to see a man who was an Olympic athlete and to hear his story. Sometimes people put the issue of HIV and AIDS on the backburner, but it’s important that it has its own day. I’ve known and lost a lot of people to HIV.”

Louganis has transformed from a young man with secrets about his sexuality and HIV status to a mentor, speaker and advocate for both athletes and non-athletes on HIV/AIDS and authenticity.

“People with HIV and AIDS were very stigmatized, and it wasn’t talked about,” MU post-doctoral chemical researcher Patrick Cavins said. “Seeing people today discuss it, and even people getting tattoos that say ‘I’m HIV-positive’ is a statement of hope.”

Louganis concluded his speech by quoting Maya Angelou.

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”

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