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Spotlight on Stigma: Living Beyond the Gold

Four Olympic Gold Medals, one Olympic Silver Medal, five Gold World Championship Medals, six Pan American Games Gold Medals and two Summer Universiade Gold Medals-- these are just a few of diver Greg Louganis's accomplishments.

Greg Louganis was born in El Cajon, California on January 29, 1960 and was adopted not long after. As he grew up, he began training in dance, tumbling and acrobatics. These activities gave him the skills he needed to become a graceful diver.

Louganis began his diving career at 9-years-old, and it led him to Olympic gold. He won two gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

At the 1988 Seoul Games, he had a harder time. As he was about to dive during the springboard preliminaries, his jump wasn’t strong enough and he ended up hitting his head on his dive. He took temporary stitches, made it through the preliminaries and ended up winning the gold the next day.

Although he might have almost lost the gold in that moment, that head injury led to an even bigger scare. Louganis had found out six months before Seoul that he was HIV+, and he was worried that the blood from his injury might have gotten in the pool and potentially infected others.

At the time, an HIV diagnosis was pretty much a death sentence. Very little was known about the disease, and there was a lot of stigma surrounding it. HIV+ people would get fired from jobs, denied from housing and Louganis would surely not have been able to go to the Olympics. So, he took his medicine, and was encouraged to continue training by his doctor. Of course, no one contracted HIV from the pool. Chlorine kills HIV and skin is an effective barrier against the virus.

Diving helped Louganis cope with depression related to his diagnosis. Between training, workouts and interviews, diving gave him a reason to keep going each day.

After his diving retirement in 1989, he went on to become a stage actor. In 1994, he felt comfortable coming out as gay. By 1995, his autobiography, Breaking the Surface, became a bestseller, and he decided to announce on national television that he was suffering from AIDs.

“HIV taught me not to take anything for granted. I didn’t think I would see 30, and here I am at 56,” said Louganis.

Greg Louganis is considered to be the greatest diver in history, and he managed to accomplish this with an HIV diagnosis.

Louganis once said, “I don’t want to be remembered as the greatest diver who ever lived. I want to be able to see the next greatest diver. I hope I live to see the day when my records are broken.”

Luckily, he was able to do that. In 2011, 17-year-old high school diver Kevin Dreesen broke Louganis’ 34-year-old record.

The Olympics are more than just athletic events. The Games are a ceremony of hope that seek to inspire the next generation. Louganis’ story inspires not only aspiring divers, but also everyone who has ever received an HIV diagnosis. You can survive.

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