The last thing I ever thought I would be doing.....

     About a year after my AIDS diagnosis I followed my doctor's recommendation and decided to join a fitness club and hire a personal trainer.  The trainer who was assigned to me was a young woman who listened to my story and my reasons to get healthier and she gave me the instruction and encouragement to get moving and be a bit healthier than I had been.  As we got to know each other I told her more about my AIDS diagnosis and my HIV infection.  Her response was amazing!  Instead of judgment, she informed me that she was a high school health teacher and she wondered if I would ever be interested in speaking to her classes.  Because I am a total introvert and not exactly comfortable with public speaking, I was reluctant to say yes.  Then I remembered someone that I had found as a total inspiration in my life.
     I remembered when Jacob Wetterling first disappeared.  His parents showed a strength I found to be amazing.  As time went by and Jacob remained missing, his mother Patty became stronger and fought to help others with missing children.  I realized that if I was faced with a life changing challenge, I would want to have the strength to change my tragedy into something beneficial.  Now, I was faced with my life changing AIDS diagnosis.  How could I make a change to help people.  It seemed like the perfect opportunity was now being offered by the person who was making me run laps and do squats.
     So, I agreed to talk to the students at St Louis Park High School.  The first classes were nerve-racking and seemed to last forever.  Still, the students were very attentive and asked interesting and thought provoking questions.  As more classes went by, I realized that this was something I could do to help stop others from meeting the same fate that I had.  As I did more and more, I developed a PowerPoint presentation to go with my talk.  I was amazed at myself.  The quiet, shy person I had always been was standing in front of a group of strangers, teen-agers at that, and telling them my personal life story.  And they were listening!  I had turned my awful life situation into something good.  I really was making a difference!
     The teachers at St Louis Park have the students write thank you cards after I have presented to their classes.  Over the years I have kept all of the cards and read them when I am feeling down or am wondering why I keep going.  They always cheer me up and give me the strength to keep going.  The students hear exactly what I am telling them and many tell me that they will make changes, stay safe and get tested because of what they hear. 
     Four years ago I met a woman living with HIV who was also interested in speaking to students about her experience with HIV.  When she heard that I was speaking at area high schools, she asked if she could come to listen.  I asked her if she was interested in joining me speaking.  She said yes and since then we have become a team.  Out stories are totally different, she is a straight female with HIV while I am a gay male with AIDS.  Her health has remained good, mine, not so much.  I am much more of a "hard fact and statistics" kind of speaker while she shares more of the emotional side of HIV.  Together, we are absolutely amazing if I do say so myself.
     This past Wednesday evening we spoke to parents of the students at St Louis Park High School.  Once again we were surprised at the reaction of our audience.  They were attentive and seemed supportive.  They listened and many were very vocally appreciative of what we were doing.  And once again, our presentation made a difference.
     So, I guess after all these years I have come to the conclusion that I really have done what I had admired in Patty Wetterling and others like her.  I took my bad situation, my AIDS diagnosis, and turned it into something positive.  And together with my co-speaker, the support of teachers like those at St Louis Park High School, the support and encouragement of friends and family and the love, support, encouragement and help from my wonderful husband, Jim, I will continue to speak to students, parents and anyone else who will listen about my life with HIV/AIDS and HIV Prevention.  And as the years go by, I will continue to collect thank you cards from the students and read them from time to time when I need to give myself a positive boost.  And who knows, maybe I will continue to reach the people who listen and they will make changes to prevent HIV.
   

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