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Gay Games Athletes Are All Winners
Profiles of Three Positive Contenders

By Jeff Berry

September/October 2006

Gay Games Athletes Are All Winners
Douglas Graham Bates, 50, of Newark, Delaware, featured on the cover of this issue, came to Chicago in July to compete in this year's Gay Games. Last October, Doug fell ill with a severe case of salmonella, and his weight dropped to a mere 125 lbs. Last week Doug took home a silver medal in the Men's Masters Physique Competition, age 50-59. I spoke with him several days before the opening of the Games.

Doug looks upon his return to health and his trek to the Gay Games as his "journey to wellness." In June he took part in Broadway Bares at Roseland in New York City (see picture above), an event which this year raised more than $650,000 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.Doug, who says he's always been very spiritual, stated that he was "New Age before New Age was New Age!" But last year before he became sick, he had gotten off of meds, and was in denial, and his health was declining. He says he was suffering from dementia, and had four T-cells -- so few that he could have named them. He ended up in the hospital, and moved back in with his parents shortly thereafter. "I was really lovely to be with," he says.

During his slow recovery he would play Scrabble with his dad, who was an avid player and would always beat Doug at the game. One day the words started coming together for Doug, and all the pieces began falling into place, literally. "I not only won, I trounced him!" he laughs.

That's when he knew he was starting to get better, and he began lifting weights at home. He convinced his parents that he needed to get back to the gym. "The gym is my sacred space," says Doug almost religiously. "It saved my life." He was soon up to working out two-and-a-half hours per day, six days a week, but was told by a trainer that he was in fact over-training, and cut back to one hour per day, five days a week. His exercise routine included yoga as well.

Doug decided he wanted to participate in the Gay Games. A friend of his had competed during the Sydney Games in 2002, and it had served as an inspiration to Doug at the time. "My mission is to be a catalyst and to inspire others," says Graham, "and I can't do that through darts."

Since he was living on Social Security, he didn't have enough money to make it to the Games without some help. And so, with the assistance of the folks at AIDS Delaware, a fund was set up to help him get to the Games.

Doug was determined to win a medal, and his story, like hundreds of other Gay Games athletes living with HIV, reminds us that even those of us living with the virus should strive to be the best that we can be.

Click here to e-mail Douglas Graham Bates.


Update on James Ballard

James Ballard, profiled in the May/June issue of Positively Aware, sent us the following e-mail shortly before the Games began.

"My hopes of competing in Chicago have gone down in flames, as my old med regimen collapsed and my health sailed through Dante's Inferno. The news is not all bad, though, as I brush off the ash and drag my training suit back into the pool, for my body is responding to a new 'summer cocktail' and I am thrashing less and less in the water. It will take time, however, to get back water rhythm and of that there is simply not enough to scale the blocks and launch.

"I know that I will miss the start and the finish, but most of all, I will miss the memories which will be taken home by everyone who has the fortune to participate. I wish all well and hope that everyone takes home gold, at least in their heart."


Craig Goodman -- No Pain, All Gain

Gay Games Athletes Are All Winners
I spoke with Craig Goodman several days after the Games concluded. Goodman was also featured in the May/June issue of Positively Aware, and said that his experience at the Games was awesome. "Chicago was so friendly and accommodating. I was kind of disappointed that it got political and some of the countries weren't able to attend."

Craig (pictured below) competed in the bowling competition as part of one of his local leagues, "The Classics," which hails from a suburb of Los Angeles, Conaga Park. "I was with 15 women, and 13 of them went home with medals. Unfortunately, I didn't.

"The camaraderie [of the Games] is indescribable -- it's overwhelming, and very humbling. The people I was with, we became closer and closer throughout the week.

"When those lights went off [during opening ceremonies] and we saw [the lighted rainbow flag] on the giant screens, it was a rush.

"For those 10 days, I was just another athlete. I was not someone living with HIV -- it was the farthest thing from my mind. I live with neuropathy, but during the week, I had no pain at all. Getting to the Games was one of my goals, one of my living goals. Now, my next goal is [Cologne] Germany [site of the 2010 Gay Games].

"When we would run into people on the street in Chicago, they would see our badges and ask us how we were doing in our category -- one lady, who had her baby with her, came up and asked us where she could get tickets to go see the athletes compete.

"Thank Chicago for us, it's a really beautiful city, right there on the lake. I never imagined so much color!"


At Game's End

Participation, Inclusion, and Personal Best. These are the ideals that Tom Waddell, founder of the Gay Games, challenged athletes to strive for during the first Gay Games in San Francisco in 1982. It was also the theme for this year's "Gaymes," which just wrapped up here in Chicago.

30,000 people packed Soldier Field for the spectacular opening ceremonies, and nearly as many attended the festive closing party at Wrigley Field. Between the two, and all week long, a huge array of sporting competitions, cultural activities, parties and events filled field houses, sporting venues, bars, clubs, and restaurants throughout the Chicago area with athletes from all across the world.

Highlights of the opening ceremonies included performances by Margaret Cho, Andy Bell, Jody Watley, Heather Small, and Matthew Cusick, the performer booted from Cirque du Soleil because of his HIV-positive status, who subsequently sued and won. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley delivered a rousing welcome to the athletes and the audience alike.

George Takei, who played Sulu in Star Trek, gave a stirring and inspirational speech, and spoke of the barbed-wire fences that surrounded internment camps here in the U.S. for Japanese-Americans during World War II. He said that this country has abolished slavery and granted women the right to vote, but that there still exists "an invisible barbed-wire fence" for gay Americans who are not allowed to marry.

"America is a land of shining ideals, but it has not always lived up to them," stated Takei. "I am a proud, gay American, and a runner in the Gay Games, and we will tear down these invisible barbed-wire fences, because we are Americans."

As nearly 10,000 athletes from around the world poured out onto the field, Team Chicago, one of the largest contingents with 2,500 athletes, was the last to enter. It took fifteen minutes for them to finish filling the field, much to the delight of the roaring "home" crowd. The Wyoming contingent of two, with one woman holding a flag bearing Matthew Shepard's name, brought tears to my eyes, and the crowd to its feet. The Ugandan team with one, lone athlete brought with him the realization that as separate as we may be geographically, we can stand together in unison as a community.

When the last athletes lined up, the lights came down, and 10,000 glow sticks instantly created a gay rainbow flag on the grass of Soldier Field, truly a sight to behold. A male streaker lightened up the evening as the program dragged into the third of four-plus hours, which culminated in a dizzying rainbow fireworks display which circled the perimeter of the stadium toward evening's end.

All in all, the Games were deemed a success. They were a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many people from all walks of life to come together and celebrate their differences, while affirming that which we have in common, and reminding us all of how far we've come, yet how far we have to go. -- Jeff Berry


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