It Ain't Easy: Exercise, HIV and Me
By Enrique Franco
April 28, 2010
I can remember a time when I would get up at 4:45AM and head over to the gym. Hearing that lousy buzzer go off and forcing myself to get out of bed. Sometimes THAT was the hardest part. I would sit up and force my eyes to open. My head was like a computer starting to power up. You know, how you hear that bleep sound and wait for all of the systems to download itself. All of the important icons popping up on the screen, like my thoughts for the day following an order.
If my unit wasn't doing physical training that day I would do this pattern. I had just enough time before heading into work to get a good work-out. I'd get to the gym probably around 5AM. I lived on the base so the drive was relatively short.
Once there, I would run down in my head what exercises I was about to throw my body into. Some days it would be the chest, biceps, and abs. Other days I would lift for my back, triceps, and legs. It all depended on what I worked out during our unit fitness. We would work out together as a unit every other day. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays belonged to the Army. So that gave me Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for personal training.
When in the gym, I can remember seeing all of these really built guys alongside me. And I would think to myself, this is the norm. If you wanna look good and feel strong you gotta knock out this set. So there I was, lifting weights to my heart's content.
The reason why I am telling you about this is because of what MY mind frame was back then when I lifted. For me it was more important to look good. I didn't want other Soldiers to outperform me or have more muscle tone than me. I wanted to get the stares and, secretly, the possible hook-ups. Of course most of the guys there were doing it for the girls' attentions. I secretly did it for other guys' attentions. THAT is how I used to think. Cocky huh? I was so into myself and the Adonis image. I didn't focus on the real benefits of working out like I do today.
Today, when I go to the gym, it has a very different feel to it. Today, I will get up at 8:00AM feeling fresh and alive. I take my time driving to the gym, not focusing on how much I intend on lifting or how many sets I MUST accomplish while there. When I get there, I turn the car off and casually walk up to the door. While walking to the first set of weights I tell myself Let's do only this amount today. YES this gym is also filled with muscle head jocks, but they are there to do their own thing. I am there to do MY thing now. My thing is totally different now.
Now, I lift because I want to feel good about my body. I lift because I know that it is actually helping me stay strong and flexible. More importantly, I exercise because it empowers me to fight this HIV running inside of me.
I still lift weights just as much as I did before getting HIV. I also still do my runs, whether they are on the treadmill or outside. I run at a minimum of three miles and at the most five at any given time. You may ask, why are you still doing all of this? Well, for me, it helps me to stay healthy and focused.
I am big on reading and communicating on positive thoughts and motivational topics. But, I believe that another dynamic that really helps is physical exercise.
Let me tell you, I will sometimes push my body to perform at a higher level in the gym. Every time I do, even if I just work-out for half the time, I come out of there feeling so relaxed and upbeat. For me, exercising plays a significant role in my life today. The way I view it has shifted dramatically as well. Now, when I am there, I am doing it for the sheer fun of it. I'm doing it because I want to feel good about my body and feel good knowing I am empowering myself and not the HIV.
Believe it or not, I am having more fun at the gym now than before. And it's cool because I am able now to actually see other people exercising. Before I would go and only focus on myself. I had this egocentric, self serving mind frame. This tunnel vision limited me to only see what I was doing.
Today, in my relaxed state, I can recognize some of the older people in the gym. Sometimes I will stop in between sets and chat with some of them. Sometimes after completing my workout I will show them some techniques and different exercises. They seem very appreciative and have become my gym friends. Cool huh? Yes, this HIV has blessed me yet again in another form.
I guess what I am trying to say is that I am more humbled and appreciative. That is the message for me though. What I hope you get out of this is that exercise is really a good thing for us HIVers. Not because it is a form of combating this virus. I mean, some can view it that way. For others, I would encourage you to just get out there and have some fun. Treat your body to some invigorating and challenging tools.
Your body as well as your mind will thank you for it. You will be able to shake off those blue feelings. You will also reward yourself with energy and a sprinkle of life. And, most importantly, you might meet and make some friends along the way.
I am so blessed and happy to be able to continue my exercises. I know that for some of us it might not be possible. I understand that it can be hard. If you can't exercise, how about a nice long walk in the park? Or taking a long dip in the pool? Whatever you decide on doing, just get out there and do it. At my age I can honestly say that it ain't easy. But the benefits are unquestionably rewarding and gratifying.
Get out there and enjoy life. Treat your body to some fun and set your mind at ease. Go ahead and treat yourself to this and please feel free to share with all of us what you get out of it.
A Brighter Vision
The U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy got Enrique Franco kicked out of the Army. It also, oddly, was the reason he found out he was HIV positive.
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