With a Little Help From TELUS

Don Smith
Don Smith

I know that this is probably a bit of hypocritical statement to make for a person that writes about their life in a public blog but I am actually quite a private person. There are certain aspects of my life that I just prefer not to expose through this medium. However I sometimes feel compelled to be public about those personal topics if it means that the information could assist other people. Such is the case with the following article that has been written about me by my employer TELUS Communications. The spirit of the article is really to highlight how persons living with HIV can achieve many of their personal goals if they have access to treatment and support along the way. It is not meant to be interpreted as some grandiose personal statement, a "hey look at what I did". Rather I hope it shows that we all win when an employer embraces diversity and provides its team with tools/benefits that help them achieve both career and personal goals.

Don Smith Competes in Gruelling Bike Race to Raise Awareness for HIV and AIDS

June 16, 2012

The Faces of TELUS profiles team members from different walks of life who help make TELUS a great organization and, together, reflect the communities where we live and work. In our 12th story in this series, we shine the spotlight on Don Smith of Vancouver, a senior business analyst in Customer Solutions.

Remarkable. Inspiring. Heroic.

Few words can aptly sum up Don Smith's personal achievements. Last month, Don completed Ironman Texas, his 11th Ironman competition, and qualified for the World Ironman Championship this October in Kona, Hawaii. Don has also raced in countless triathlons and long distance trail runs, including last year's 125-kilometre Canadian Death Race in Grande Cache, Alberta.

Don Smith

Perhaps even more remarkable is that Don has reached his personal pinnacle of athleticism while living with HIV for 25 years.

This Saturday, Don and three fellow endurance athletes from the U.S. and Australia -- two of whom are also HIV positive -- will set out on a 4,800-kilometre journey in Race Across America (RAAM), considered one of the world's most challenging bike races. The mission of the relay team, Team4HIVHope, is to raise awareness for HIV and AIDS and raise money for Until There's a Cure, a not-for-profit organization that helps fund prevention education, care services and vaccine development.

"The timing of our participation this year is particularly symbolic in that this is the 30th anniversary for both Race Across America and the discovery of HIV and AIDS," Don says.

Don has a long history of leveraging his athletic activities to raise money and awareness for social causes. For example, he cycled in Ride 2 Survive to raise money for cancer research and competed in Ironman triathlons as part of Team E-Race Hate.

Up to 22 hours of training every week

Training for these events takes time, dedication and stamina. In recent months, Don has been following a strict regime that involves 10 to 22 hours of weekly swimming, running and strength training. That means exercising before and after work in addition to cycling four to six hours every Saturday and Sunday -- rain or shine.

"I am sure it will be the most challenging thing I have ever done as RAAM is considered by many people to be the toughest cycling event in the world. Unlike the Tour de France, RAAM riders and crew go non-stop from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland," explains Don. "The good news for me is that I am part of a team and therefore I will only cycle a quarter of the distance."
"Nutrition, hydration and recovery are of key importance for all athletes," Don adds. "They become even more critical for people like me who do endurance events and are living with a chronic health condition. During a race like RAAM there is little room for error or miscalculations, especially when you have a compromised immune system. Fortunately, our team has been able to work with a nutritionist who has developed a very specific plan that we will use to support us during this event."

Don takes three pills twice a day to keep his HIV levels under control and must manage the side effects that come with the different drugs. His diet includes large amounts of raw fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains.

Paying it forward with healthy living

Don became passionate about healthy living not long after being diagnosed with HIV when he was 28 years old. "Staying as healthy as possible is my way of 'paying it forward. Active living and good nutrition provide my body with the tools to help me best deal with everything that is thrown my way," he says. "As a result, I am rarely sick. I can't remember the last time I had a cold or took time off from work because I was ill."

Of course, there is the endorphin rush that comes with physical activity. But even the keenest athletes have off days. Yet Don says those can be the best days: "Some of my most rewarding workouts have been the ones that have I have not wanted to do because of fatigue or because I wasn't motivated. I often negotiate or bargain with myself to just get to the starting line and to see what happens. Rarely have I been disappointed."

Living life with passion, an open mind and a positive attitude

When asked what fellow team members should keep in mind about people living with HIV, Don reminds us all about the value of living life with passion, an open mind and a positive attitude: "We are here working alongside you, your brothers and your sisters, and you really don't have anything to fear from us. People living with HIV may not have the easiest life, but with a little help and support, they too are members of the high performing team at TELUS and also contribute greatly to the community at large. And you really should try triathlons; they can provide a lifelong healthy lifestyle with great social benefits."

-- Michelle Gagné


Did you know?

  • More than 37 million people worldwide live with HIV
  • Every 12 seconds, another person contracts HIV
  • Every 16 seconds, someone dies from AIDS
  • Learn more about Don's relay team and how you can support Until There Is a Cure on the HIV4Hope website

Reprinted with permission from TELUS Corporate Communications