Gay Games Profiles
Athletes With HIV Show Their Winning Attitudes
During July 15-22, 12,000 athletes from around the world will descend on Chicago to take part in the 2006 Gay Games. Following are profiles of three of the many courageous HIV-positive athletes taking part in this summer's festivities in the Windy City. For more information on the Games, visit www.gaygameschicago.org
Conscious Soden is a woman not to be played with. And, as her name implies, she's absolutely aware of that. Whether studying electronics and engineering while in the United States Navy or hustling hard as the production assistant for the Queen Latifah Show or even hosting her own talk show for the Oxygen Media Network, Conscious' life is a true testimony to hard work and determination.
Haunted by a traumatic childhood and an early adult life of drug and alcohol abuse, Conscious could very well be the poster child for the old saying, "you can't keep a good woman down" -- a theory she intends to validate, yet again, as she plays for the gold in Women's Basketball during this summer's Gay Games.
"Basketball is my first love and no matter what I went through in my life, a good game of ball always helped me through the day," says 40-year old Conscious, who currently resides in sunny Miami Beach. "At one time, my performance was hindered a bit due to illness that resulted from being HIV-positive. But I feel really strong now."
AdvertisementIt is that sense of strength and resilience that convinced executives at Showtime (home of Queer as Folk), to transform Conscious' life-changing autobiography, Getting Unstuck, into a motion picture starring hip-hop diva and television sweetheart Eve.
"You can overcome all drama and still succeed," says Conscious with incredible certainty. "I did."
Just being able to compete in this year's Gay Games is more than enough reward for Craig Goodman, a long-term survivor of AIDS. To win a gold medal in bowling, well, that would be the icing on the cake.
Since his last visit to the Games, at Vancouver in 1990, Craig's physical health has endured many ups and downs that severely threatened his dreams of returning -- but even that was not enough to crush his determination. The support and encouragement from his family and the many life-long friends that he has made along the way, has transformed his hope and desire of once again competing in the Games into reality.
"This has been a personal goal of mine," he says with great pride. "At one point I needed to be in a wheelchair to get around Disneyland. I could not be on my feet too long and needed the aid of a cane just to walk. But today, I have very few restrictions."
Few restrictions indeed! Craig currently bowls in three leagues a week and manages a bowling center in his hometown of Van Nuys, California -- a regimen that he hopes will pay off when it's time to bowl for the gold. "Some people don't believe that there is strong competition in gay bowling," he says. "There is!"
It was this realization that helped Craig to let go of a lot of his own internalized homophobia. "It was hard for me to overcome the fear that only pansies were involved in gay bowling," he bravely admits. "I never thought that I would ever reach the competition level that I am now involved in."
Asked about how he feels he'll do in this year's competition, Craig's response is both honest and optimistic. "Bowling is a very mental game and I have a tendency to wander," he says. "But I want this to be my best outing yet."
"I guess you can say that I'm slightly competitive," says James Ballard, who has won so many medals from competing in the Gay Games that he stopped counting ... after his 40th one. "But I am inspired by those who try their hardest because, win or lose, they are raising the bar."
An avid swimmer since his brother pushed him into a swimming pool at the age of 10, James' passion for swimming has raised many bars along the way -- and a couple of eyebrows as well. While his resume boasts such esteemed honors as world masters records (as in more than one) in his sport, James is also vividly able to recount the prejudices he encountered in the early days of AIDS, belonging to an openly gay swim squad.
"In San Francisco (1986), we had to travel to Oakland to find a pool because nobody wanted a group of gay swimmers to take over their pool," he says. "Sadly, however, this was not my first experience with being thrown out of a pool in the darker days of AIDS ignorance."
It was days like these that help James to appreciate the opening ceremonies of the Games, of which this will be his sixth. "When I walked into the Olympic (sized) venues in Sydney and Montreal and Atlanta, I reflect on how far we have reached," he says like a father proud of his baby's first steps. "I am simply thankful that I have made this journey with my friends, family and our community."