This is the first in a series of blog posts about living with HIV/AIDS and my journey “downward” into a very serious health crisis where I went from a healthy 175 pounds with a genius IQ of 173, to 125 pounds with dementia so intense that I couldn’t even figure out how to dial a cell phone, and my eventual emergence back to life, to a place I never dreamed it would take me or lead me to become and HIV positive bodybuilder.
I will alternate (for now) between a daily post of the story leading to where I am now (and it ain't pretty at times...will show all of the photos I rarely share with anyone from my sick days) and a chronicle of my days leading up to the Games with tips, insight, tools and training which just might help you along the way! Or maybe not. All I know is, I felt a "calling" to return to the Gay Games and sign-posts seem to be happening on a daily basisi confirming that I am indeed doing what I need to be doing.
The “journey back” culminated at the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago, where almost 12,000 athletes and participants from around the world came together to celebrate diversity and compete in every sport imaginable from bodybuilding, track and field, wrestling, and even ballroom dancing and figure skating.
Today marks my return to the Gay Games, this time happening August 12 in Cleveland, Ohio whereas, before the Games helped save my life, this time, it’s to celebrate and share that life indeed goes on and anyone can not only survive, but thrive with this disease. In 120 days I will be onstage competing again.
My wish is to help you get information and guidance, that you may never have to experience what I went through, and gain inspiration by what I did to achieve my success with coming “back from the dead”.
The Journey of an HIV Positive Bodybuilder
I start my journey in 2000. I was 45 years old and it was right after that dreaded “Y2K”. You remember the time. It was the “could it really happen” scary scenario where there was a good chance that all of the computers would crash, planes would fall out of the air, and we would pitted “neighbor against neighbor” as we hoarded our guns and food and water supplies.
I was living in Las Vegas at the time, the home of EVERYTHING electric and neon, so you can imagine the fear that “Sin City” experienced.
Well it, of course, didn’t happen, but little did I know that I was in the early phase of my own personal “meltdown”.
I was a swing in the National Touring Company of “Chicago”, which was staged and directed by Bob Fosse’s protégé, Ann Reinking.
For those of you who don’t know “theatre lingo”, a “swing” is someone who covers all of the chorus (or ensemble) roles and has to go on in a moment’s notice if someone is out or injured before, or even sometimes during the show, and has to learn everyone’s staging and be ready to go on in a moment’s notice.
It was a position that I loved and hated, as I crave variety and get bored easily if I am doing the same show the requisite 8-shows a week, and I get to draw on all of my talents and skills, but hated because I’m rarely on for opening nights, I have the stress of always having to be ‘ready’ and not knowing from day to day what I’ll be doing that day for the show.
I was tested as being HIV positive in 1993, and in subsequent posts, I will go into more detail about what led to this, and my own White Light experience . Suffice it to say, that experience led me to a phase of personal healing and self-discovery that led me down new pathways of self-discovery and appreciation of the gift of life we live every day.
I heard there was an audition for the tour of Chicago in LA while I was living in San Francisco after this White Light experience, and knew they were casting older Fosse dancers (like me) and always stayed in shape. I flew down, auditioned, had a couple of callbacks, and was thrilled to once again be in a major show on the road with a steady lucrative paycheck!
Having been cast in Chicago was a “reemergence” into life and career for me.
I was back doing what I loved and in a high paying, high profile show, and as any actor knows to have at least a year or two of work like this is a blessing.
“Chicago” was playing at the newly opened Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, and ours was the first show ever to play there. It was the antithesis of Vegas which has a reputation of ‘tits and glitz”, as this show was all in black with none of that. Doubly exciting because Chita Rivera was playing the role of “Roxie” for the first time (she was previously “Velma”) and Ben Vereen was “Billy Flynn”. HUGE deal for the cast and for the casino.
I was sharing a house outside of the Strip with my friend and assistant musical director Michael Horsley, and we lived about fifty yards from a wonderful raw food restaurant called “The Raw Truth”.
Raw Food and the Big Decision
Not only was the food amazingly tasty, but I could just feel that it was doing good things for me as I ate it. Even the raw pizzas were amazing. Marilu Henner (who is a huge health food advocate and has written numerous books about it) was the replacement for Chita, and I was even delivering her meals from them from time to time.
As would go to the restaurant daily, and over a short amount of time, I started to read more about raw food living, and healing stories of recoveries from cancer and the like.
It made such perfect sense. Raw foodists believe that any kind of cooking destroys the essential nutrients we get, and that when we eat cooked foods, we are in a way, killing ourselves slowly.
Feeling so good from it all, I remember the day.
I was standing in the kitchen with my housemate Michael and I took the two bottles of HIV meds I had (I believe the “cocktail” was 3TC and Crixivan back then) and tossed them away, saying that I was from her on in and forever more off of meds and trusting the raw food way of life.
I was immensely liberating and empowering to feel that I had taken steps that rang true for me despite what the “experts” were saying.
The next few weeks of no meds and raw food l living (having purchased practically every meal from the restaurant) I was flying high.
I felt more confident that I had in ages and cast members were commenting on how terrific I looked. HOT even.
But then, about three weeks in, things started to shift rapidly.
The story of how I became an HIV positive bodybuilder continues in PART 2!