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A celebration of health and independence with folding treadmills

walking lifestyles

John and I celebrated the Fourth of July in Atlanta. I had been getting ready for July 4 since sometime in January. Early in the year, I decided that I wanted to run the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta. That may not sound like much to those of you who are accustomed to running, or playing softball, or throwing basketball hoops, or who play volleyball or any other kind of sport, but for me, it sounds like a lot.

Growing up, I was always the last to be chosen for any team—baseball, basketball, volleyball or any kind of activity that required any type of athletic skill. Most of the time, I wasn’t chosen unless the coach required everyone to be chosen. I usually kept score.

This isn’t to say that I wasn’t interested, because I was and am. I love to watch a baseball player scratch his crotch before he pitches. I look for a flash of skin each time a basketball player leaps to make a goal, or when a volleyball player slams the ball across the net. The whole concept of men playing with other men is a turn-on for me. I am an athletic supporter in the best sense of the word, but I am not athletic.

For years I have tried to run; it seemed a good way to do my cardio and to keep my weight down. But always after a few minutes, it just didn’t seem worth it. I was too short of breath. It was too hot. I found that walking on the treadmill in the air-conditioned gym was easier than running, and I would stop. This year is different.

This fall, in October, I will celebrate my 65th birthday. What better way for me to celebrate that occasion than to accomplish something that I have never done before?

What better way for a HIV-positive man to celebrate his health? My inner-voice said, “John, run the Peachtree Road Race.”

In January, I began. I bought books that talked about how to run. Walk first, and then run, the book said. So I walked for a while and then jogged for a while. I walked five minutes and jogged two minutes, walked five minutes and jogged three minutes. Finally, I could run 10 minutes and walk five minutes. I moved from running one city block to a quarter of a mile, from half mile to one mile, from one mile to five miles and, finally, I could walk/run the six miles that are the length of the race. I was a runner.

I started on the treadmill in the gym, and moved outside into the open space—knowing that on the day of the race I would be running with the sun beating down. Of course, there were and are days when I really have to force myself to run. It would be so easy for me to convince myself that it was okay to stay home because of the weather, or sore legs or even for John. So far, my time on the track far outweighs my time off the track. Most mornings I run an hour to an hour and a half.

A couple of things have kept me running. I imagine my 65-year-old body as the body of a 25-year-old man crossing the finish line in Piedmont Park—with taut tanned legs, brown muscled arms reaching toward the sky, sweat pouring down my body glistening in the sun and John, of course, waiting at the finish line with camera in hand to snap my photograph as I finish the race. The image keeps me going.

Years ago, I watched the Oscar winning film Chariots of Fire, and loved it. It concerned two men training for the Olympic races. Although I don’t remember much about the story, I do remember the music. As I jog around the track, through the paths or down Peachtree, that music plays in my head—those Olympic runners and I gracefully running for the Olympic Gold day after day. That sound and image keeps me going.

Finally, I think about the day of the race itself—55,000 other men and I racing down Peachtree Street. Of course, the race is for men and women, but in my head, it is the 55,000 men and I. I have always had a “thing” for runners, for men in running shorts. What better way to fulfill that fantasy than to be right there in the midst of them on the Fourth of July? The image of those racing men keeps me going.

I never really believed that I would live to be 65 because of my HIV status. But 18 years after diagnosis, I am alive and well and have run my first race. I think that is cool. Who knows? Maybe the Boston Marathon is next.

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