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Flying with Ease
July 09, 2012
The four-time Olympic gold medalist is soaring even higher now that he's put some troubles behind him and taken up a new hobby: the trapeze
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July 09, 2012

Flying With Ease

The four-time Olympic gold medalist is soaring even higher now that he's put some troubles behind him and taken up a new hobby: the trapeze

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Today Louganis talks freely about the darker times in his life. "People will say, 'You made it easier for other people' and 'Oh, you had such a hard life,' but they were events that happened. I was raped, I was beat up," he says. "I could make that my story and say, Woe is me, but that's not who I am." Perhaps that's why Breaking the Surface reads more like a dispassionate timeline than a memoir. "I wrote that to let go of it," he says. "It's history."

Things still aren't perfect, however. In 2004 his mother, Frances, whom O'Brien calls "very much his cheerleader," died. "I had a little meltdown," Louganis says. In the throes of depression, Louganis locked himself in his house and downed one to two bottles of wine a day. At that point he also stopped taking his HIV meds, which led to a bout of shingles and a staph infection in his left leg that was so serious he barely escaped amputation. "I don't remember it; I was doped up so bad," he says. An arrest for DUI in 2006 was a wake-up call, and Louganis has been sober since.

His HIV has been kept in check by an assortment of treatments. "I've been in a lot of studies, been one of those statistics," he says of the years immediately following his diagnosis. "I did Norvir, gene therapy, a year's treatment of Interlochen, which is a chemotherapy type of thing." While he used to have to take AZT every four hours, around the clock, his treatments are significantly less demanding now. His T cells—the white blood cells that fight infection and are the primary target of the AIDS virus—are "higher than they've ever been," he says. Including vitamins and supplements, he now takes about 10 pills twice a day. "HIV is a part of me. It's something I live with," he says. Dr. Tony Mills, whose L.A. practice specializes in HIV care, has been treating Louganis for eight years and says that his virus levels, like those of many Americans receiving the most recent HIV treatment, are undetectable. "Every time I see him, I'm like, 'Have you had work done? You look great!' That usually doesn't happen as people get older," says Mills, laughing.

For years Louganis made a good living as a motivational speaker, but many of those opportunities dried up with the economic downturn. Now his Malibu home is in foreclosure. "I'm kind of scared about that," Louganis says. "But then again, whatever's going to happen will happen. I'm at peace with it."

O'Brien, who has maintained a father-son relationship with his former protégé, has noticed Louganis's new mind-set. "For whatever reason he's kind of reinvented himself," says O'Brien. "He's much more relaxed, talks more freely."

Last year, at the urging of a Hollywood stuntwoman friend, Louganis signed up for trapeze classes at a private home in the San Fernando Valley. Louganis attends when he can, and though he may be the best diver in history, no one mistakes him for the best trapeze artist in the class. "I dived for so long and at such a young age that I didn't know exactly what I did or how I did it. With trapeze, I'm learning how to learn," he says.

But watching Louganis rehash fundamentals is still worth the price of admission; a search for "Greg Louganis swan dive" on YouTube serves as proof. He takes another turn on the trapeze, and a classmate, a Pilates instructor who is engaged to a former professional trapeze artist, watches him soar overhead and sighs. "Everything is perfect," she says.

Louganis, a long-practicing yogi who signs off his e-mails with Namaste, says he's indeed at peace with all that's happened in his life. That's why his new sport, which allows him to fly on a trapeze rather than plummet into a pool, fits his new perspective well. He turns his hand over to show a nasty-looking cut on his palm. "Last time I was there, I ripped my hand open. Oh, and I hit my feet on the bar." He pauses and smiles, easily dismissing this minor setback. "I guess I need to get back up there."

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