Sports and Support: An Entry From an HIV-Positive Athlete

Sports and Support: An Entry From an HIV-Positive Athlete
Robert Breining

You may have read in my previous blogs that I have been playing soccer for over 20 years. I have always enjoyed soccer since I was 6 years old. So of course I have come down with a case of World Cup Fever. It is very exciting since the World Cup is only every four years. With the arrival of David Beckham a few years ago to the L.A. Galaxy, major league team soccer (MLS ) in America has become more popular.

I currently play for Philadelphia Falcons Soccer Club. Since I have been so involved with POZIAM and my work in the HIV/AIDS community, I took time off from playing soccer and before I knew it, 3 years had passed. I started seeing my body change. I started seeing some roundness setting in since I stopped playing for a long time. So I decided to start practicing again in May of 2010 to get back in shape. I was never really into working out at the gym and playing soccer allowed me to work out and have fun at the same time.

A few weeks ago my team and I participated in the Toronto International Pride Cup. I was so excited to play some competitive soccer. It was great hanging out with some old friends and making new ones. It was the first time I went to Toronto and had no idea what to expect from the city and the people who live there. The people were very friendly and the city was clean. The streets were packed with people all day and all night.

We drove 8½ hours to Toronto on Friday, June 18, and immediately went to a bar to watch a World Cup match. That evening was the opening party at Crew & Tangos. The opening party allows all the soccer players to meet each other in a social setting and to get our games schedule.

We played a total of seven 60-minute games with two 30-minute halves. We had 4 games on Saturday. Of course our first game was the early game at 9:00am and our second game was right after that one and started at 10:30am. Then we broke for a lunch break and had our third game at 2:15pm and our fourth game right after that at 3:30pm. Well I must say by the end of the first day I was reminded that I was getting older, how out of shape I was and that I need to quit smoking.

We were placed fourth at the end of day one with 2 wins and 2 losses. Saturday evening after the games there was a BBQ for the players at Voglie. We had a great time socializing and comparing notes about the day's games.

Now we played 4 hours of soccer Saturday in some extreme heat and I think we were all hurting. Since we were placed fourth we had the early game on Sunday at 9:30am. We won that game and then played again at 11:30am. We lost that game and played our third game for the bronze medal at 12:30pm. The score ended up in a tie so we went into shootouts, which are penalty kicks -- best out of 5 wins the game. Our goalie made 2 stunning saves and we ended up winning 4-3 and took home the bronze medal.

Sports and Support: An Entry From an HIV-Positive Athlete
Robert Breining

During one of the final games I was fouled and my face slammed against the ground hard. I got up and a player on the other team said "Hey man you're bleeding." Then the referee said that I wasn't bleeding and then a teammate said that I was bleeding. So I immediately took a sub and went to check out my face and see what was really going on. I ended up only noticing an abrasion on my cheek.

Directly after I heard "You're bleeding," I had all these thoughts go through my head. I know I am very open about living with HIV and I think most of my teammates know about my status. But since I took 3 years off from playing soccer, a lot of new players joined my team. Since I haven't been around the past few years, I don't really know these guys off the pitch. I don't know their views or if they're educated on the topic of HIV/AIDS. I just didn't want to make my teammates feel uncomfortable in any way.

I didn't hide my status at all. I remember saying "I have to remember to take my meds" while on the sidelines a few times. If people asked me what I did for a living I told them about POZIAM. I love being open about it because when people have questions, they come to me. I have had teammates email me or pull me aside and ask me questions about HIV in the past, and I love being able to help educate friends or offer some guidance. When this happens it allows me to feel I have a purpose.

When I returned home I also realized that besides the abrasion on my cheek I also had a black eye. I looked like I was in a bar brawl, my body ached and I had a bad case of sunburn but it was worth it in the end. I had a great time and recommend visiting Toronto.

I love going to these tournaments because it allows me to focus on something else and not living with HIV. My teammates have become a brotherhood of support for me and I recommend joining a sports team. I believe it is a key part of me thriving with HIV.

HIV-Positive Athletes & Disclosure

In most countries there is an official policy of non-disclosure of your HIV status. Sports participants are not under any obligation to reveal their HIV status, although they are strongly discouraged from participating in sports such as wrestling and boxing for obvious reasons. The result of this policy of non-disclosure is that all injuries on the sports field are treated as if the injured person could be HIV+. All injured athletes who have bleeding wounds are sent off the field until they have been treated and the bleeding has stopped.

Transmission in Sports Play

The transmission of HIV can take place when an HIV+ person is injured, and blood from the infected person enters the bloodstream of the uninfected person through a cut, a lesion or an open wound or mucous membrane such as the eye or the mouth. Although HIV transmission is technically possible in this manner, experts around the world agree that the chances are extremely remote. To my knowledge there have been no documented cases of HIV being transmitted during participation in sport, so it is reasonable to assume that transmission in this manner is not likely to occur. Sports can be divided into two types: non-contact sports and contact sports.

  • Non-contact sports:
    Non-contact sports include many different kinds of exercise where there is no direct physical contact between participants during the normal course of the sport. These would include sports such as tennis, baseball, aerobics, golf, cycling, running, canoeing, hockey, cricket, softball and volleyball. Transmission of HIV infection in the normal course of these sports is extremely remote.

  • Contact sports:
    These can be divided into low contact and high contact sports. A sport like boxing would classify as a high contact sport and soccer as a low contact sport (direct contact is not supposed to take place, but frequently does). Other contact sports would be rugby, wrestling, karate and judo.

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