"It can happen to anybody," the Olympic gold medalist, who came out as HIV-positive in 1993, tells PEOPLE

November 17, 2015 03:45 PM

When Olympic diver Greg Louganis was diagnosed with HIV at 28, he didn’t think he’d live to see 30.

Now at 55, the gold medalist, activist and husband is living a healthy, active lifestyle he never thought was possible.

On Tuesday, another person in the public eye came out as HIV-positive, with Charlie Sheen making the revelation during an interview on the Today show.

Louganis says that while he “wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” having well-known people come out as positive can help with awareness and destigmatization for those living with the virus.

“It can happen to anybody,” Louganis tells PEOPLE. “Viruses are indiscriminate and opening up the dialogue – and especially being in the public’s eye – is a positive thing.”

Greg Louganis (Inset: Charlie Sheen).
Jason Kempin/Getty; Peter Kramer/NBC/Getty

Louganis hid his diagnosis, which he received six months ahead of the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, because he would not have been allowed into the country if his HIV status had been made public. It wasn’t until after played a man dying of AIDS in a play that he decided he needed to go public with his health struggles.

“I felt like I was living on an island with barely a phone for communication to the outside world. I was confident that I wasn’t the only one feeling that way,” he says of deciding to come out with his diagnosis in 1993.

In Louganis’ early years living with HIV, the treatments were harsh on his body. He describes an early medication, AZT, as “very toxic” and “hard on the liver.” Later, anti-viral drugs called protease inhibitors were introduced and today treatment is much less disruptive to one’s life.

“The side effects were horrendous until they were able to scope out proper dosaging and all that stuff,” he says. “Now it’s pretty palatable. I take my meds in the morning. I take my meds in the evening, and go back to back to living.”

On Today Sheen said he no longer abuses drugs, though he continues drinking.

Louganis says he advises people living with HIV to strive to live the healthiest lives possible.

“A lot of it is about making healthy choices. Encourage exercise. Diet, basically take care of yourself,” he’s says.

On Today, Sheen said he hopes by coming forward he might inspire others living in fear. That happened to Louganis after gave an interview to Piers Morgan in 2012 about living with HIV.

“The next day, I hear another fellow Olympian Ji Wallace from Australia was inspired to come forward with his HIV status,” says Louganis. I was blown away by that. We’ve since become dear friends. It’s so cool.”

RELATED VIDEO: Denise Richards Knew Charlie Sheen Was HIV-Positive: Source

To learn more about living with HIV/AIDS today and to contribute in the fight against the diseases, visit amfAR.org.

You May Like

EDIT POST