As many of you know, I didn’t have many friends growing up. I couldn’t read and write until late high school. I was goofy and gangly. I got made fun of all the time. But all that changed when I started playing sports.
Sports was something I could finally understand. I was able to prove myself worthy by what I could accomplish on the field. I spent every day feeling awkward and stupid, but then 3:00 PM would roll around, I’d go to practice, and I’d be in my element. Finally, I had something I excelled in, and it was great to feel that sense of accomplishment and pride.
But then I found myself on a slippery slope. I placed my self-worth on what I could achieve in football. If I lost a game, I felt terrible. If I won, I felt great. My mood, personality, and self-worth came entirely from my performance on the field.
It was so unhealthy. I was placing all of my self-worth on just one aspect of who I was. I wasn’t loving myself unconditionally or expressing any gratitude for any of the many good things I had in my life, and that only led to anger, disappointment, and fear when my football career eventually ended.
We need to be careful where we get our self-worth. Instead of earning it through outside validation, we should get it from the kindness in our hearts, the positivity that we bring, and who we are. We have to learn how to have unconditional love for ourselves.
On today’s episode of The School of Greatness, I talk about self-worth with the greatest diver in history who is also a great person and advocate: Greg Louganis. Greg has seen more than his fair share of struggles in his lifetime, but he has processed them all and come out the other side displaying peace and love, and I think we can all learn something from his example. Let’s dive in!
Greg Louganis is simply the greatest diver in history. At just 16 years old, he won his first silver medal in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. He did have to wait another eight years before returning to the Olympics due to the United States’ boycott in 1980, but in 1984 he won two gold medals, and he again won two gold medals in 1988. This man is the definition of a legendary athlete and a peak performer.
But as I mentioned earlier, Greg has faced more than his share of pain and trauma. His mother left his father before he was born, and Greg was adopted. However, growing up, he felt a constant need to earn his father’s love. While he felt that his mother’s love was unconditional, his father was a bit more difficult to impress.
Then, as he grew older, Greg began to realize that there was something different about him. As a teenager, he realized he was gay, and he went on to become the first openly gay diver in history. Today, he’s an inspiration to the LGBTQ community around the world…
But at the time, “gay” was a taboo word. Greg was told to keep his private life private and stop advertising his sexuality, and matters only got worse when he tested positive for HIV. Just six months before competing in the 1988 Olympics, Greg found himself in an abusive relationship and diagnosed with a deadly disease.
But Greg didn’t give up hope. He kept training, and he brought home two gold medals. And now, he uses his story to inspire generations of athletes who have come behind him.
This episode is incredibly inspiring — I know you’re going to love it as much as I did. Greg and I talked about his experiences as a young diver and how he drove himself to success at such a young age. We also discussed his HIV diagnosis, the hardships he faced at the time, and how he has continued to live a full and happy life in the years since. And finally, we talked about how Greg uses and teaches visualization to help young athletes reach their full potential.
I definitely enjoyed this conversation, and I know you will too! Let’s get started!
What does it take to be a top athlete? Greg won his first Olympic medal when he was just 16 years old — what motivated him to become so good at such a young age?
“I think it was a combination — whether it be adoption, my sexual identity, … it was any number of things that were really contributing factors to that desperation of having to succeed early on in my diving career.” – Greg Louganis
There were definitely multiple factors that drove Greg to perform at his highest potential, but his adoptive father was certainly one of them. Greg shared with me that he has memories of his father driving right by while the other kids beat him up at the bus stop. His father’s love always seemed to be conditional, and that caused Greg to doubt himself. It also drove him to succeed more than he ever had before.
Greg also found that his sexuality motivated him to practice harder and be the best at his chosen sport. As a kid, he loved dance and theater, but he was often made fun of. The other kids told him dance was a “sissy sport,” and they made him feel bad for his interests.
For a long time, Greg placed his self-worth in how well he succeeded at diving. He believed that he could earn his father’s love and the respect of others around him by being the best — he fell into the same trap I did.
It’s so important to be careful where we place our sense of self-worth. That confidence in who we are has to come from inside ourselves. Today, Greg has more of that inner confidence than ever:
“Validation is redundant. You don’t need to be validated. I mean, if you are true to yourself and authentic, there’s no apology. There’s just who you are. It’s just who you are. So it needs no explanation, you know?” – Greg Louganis
Think about that for a second: You don’t need to be validated. You don’t need someone else to tell you that you are talented, smart, funny, interesting, or beautiful — you have to believe you are those things for yourself. Once you accept that you are your authentic self, you can be free of all the other things you might tie your self-worth to. You don’t need to be validated — you just need to be your authentic self.
Greg has spent his life learning to validate himself, but that was never harder than when he tested positive for HIV. It was 1988, and in the 80s, HIV and AIDS were highly controversial. The virus was new — not unlike COVID-19 — it was killing a lot of people, and researchers hadn’t yet figured out any way to treat it. A positive HIV test was essentially a death sentence.
“I was dead-set that if I was HIV positive, … because I was training in Florida at the time, [I was going to] pack my bags, go back to California, lock myself in my house, and wait to die … because that’s what we thought of HIV at the time.” – Greg Louganis
Greg wanted to give up. He was convinced that he would die, and at the time, medical science gave him very little reason to expect otherwise. Thankfully, Greg’s doctor just so happened to be his cousin, and he gave Greg some advice that might have saved his life.
“My cousin, who was my doctor in Florida, … he convinced me to stay and train [and] that that was the healthiest thing for me. … He said that he wanted to treat me aggressively, and he’d take care of the medical stuff. … And also, it was easier for me to focus on something like diving because it was a lot more positive. … I think that that really enabled me to learn some coping skills surrounding … my HIV status, and I think … it definitely was the healthiest thing for me.” – Greg Louganis
Greg continued to live his life, train for the Olympics, and seek the best treatment he could. In fact, he was even treated by Dr. Anthony Fauci at the CDC! And because he continued to train, work hard, learn those coping skills, and maintain hope, Greg lived long enough for science to develop a better treatment for HIV. Now, more than 30 years later, Greg is still alive and well — all because his cousin encouraged him not to go home and wait to die.
Bad things happen to all of us. We can’t always control our circumstances, but we can control how we respond to them. Greg’s HIV diagnosis was so controversial at the time, it was pretty much the worst thing that could have happened. But he refused to give up. He strode forward with his life, and he developed even more confidence in who he is as a gay man. And for that reason, he is healthy and happy today.
When bad things happen in your life, what do you do? Do you pack up your bags and head home? Or do you keep pushing? I want to encourage you not to give up, even when things get hard. If you keep striving long enough, you’ll overcome any challenge that life can throw your way.
Research shows us that visualization is a great way to approach any major task. If you can clearly imagine yourself successfully completing a task or accomplishing a goal, you’ll significantly raise your ability to do it!
As an elite athlete, Greg is familiar with the power of visualization. In fact, he learned how to do it at a very young age:
“I learned through trial and error because I learned visualization when I was three. … My dance instructor said, ‘Okay, imagine yourself doing the routine.’ And she played the music [and] left the room. I was only three years old. … And so that’s how I learned visualization.” – Greg Louganis
Did Greg’s dance teacher mean to teach him visualization? Maybe not, but he learned a powerful lesson anyway. Imagining yourself doing a dance routine — or perfectly executing a dive — can help you develop the ability to actually do whatever you’re visualizing yourself doing!
Today, Greg loves to work with young athletes — he has a real heart for kids! — and he enjoys teaching them visualization as well. But he has a unique method of teaching that I’d never heard before. Instead of teaching the kids to visualize themselves making a perfect dive, he asks them to visualize something simpler:
“When I start somebody with visualization work, … I start with something totally away from whatever activity that they’re wanting to visualize. … There’s a rollercoaster ride. There’s … riding a horse. … And I try to get them to use all of their senses — feeling where they [are], smelling, [what] they’re hearing, … what do they taste?” – Greg Louganis
Greg gave another example of this teaching technique that I particularly loved: He said that he loves to have kids imagine baking cookies. They have to choose who they’re baking with and what the ingredients feel and smell like. They visualize the delicious chocolate chips and imagine they can smell and taste the warm, gooey cookies straight from the oven.
I have to admit it — when Greg was talking through that example, I could perfectly visualize those cookies in my mind. And I bet the kids Greg mentors can picture them too. By having them imagine something as fun and visceral as chocolate chip cookies, they learn how to use all of their senses to visualize their success. They can then translate that skill into their sport and learn to execute perfect dives just like Greg!
Greg Louganis is an inspiration. He has survived trauma, abuse, and stigma to become one of the most celebrated athletes in American history. He’s also an incredible testament to the power of self-confidence and placing your self-worth in yourself, your passions, and the kindness you put out into the world.
I want to take a moment to recognize Greg for all the joy he brings to the world. He’s been through so many different challenges, but he’s come through them with grace, peace, and love. I respect and admire the calm way he continues to stride through life — even though things might not be perfect, Greg copes with the bad things and maintains a positive perspective. He’s a true inspiration to me, and I hope he inspired you today too!
Before I go, I want to share Greg’s definition of greatness:
“My definition of greatness … [is] thinking, acting, and being beyond yourself.”
I love that — it’s short, sweet, and to the point.
Thank you guys so much for joining me on this episode of The School of Greatness! I hope you got as much out of this conversation as I did. If you loved this episode, please share it with your friends on Instagram! And make sure to tag Greg, @greglouganis, and me, @lewishowes — we’d love to hear what your biggest takeaways were!
Until next time — remember that you don’t need validation. Your self-worth comes from you. Now go make it a great day!
Lewis: This is episode number 767 with Olympic Legend Greg Louganis. Welcome to the school of greatness my name is Lewis Howes a former pro athlete turned lifestyle entrepreneur and each week we bring you an inspiring person or message to help you discover how to unlock your inner greatness. Thanks for spending some time with me today now let the class begin.
Christopher Reeve said “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” John Quincy Adams said “Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulty is disappear and obstacles vanished.” Welcome to this episode we have the legendary Olympian Grey Louganis on the show who is one of the most decorated Olympic divers of all time, arguably one of the greatest divers of all the time, LGBT activist and humanitarian author and designer who has won gold medals at the 1984 and 88 summer Olympics, on both the springboard and platform. He is the only male and the second diver on the Olympic history to sweep diving events in consecutive Olympic games.
In this interview we talked about his historical Olympic run and what it took to be a champion, the mindset of a champion. We talked about how Greg felt winning was needed in order to feel love or being worth of loved. Talked about how he handled having HIV when at the time it seemed like a death sentence, also the power of sharing your weakness to reveal your strength. This is a powerful episode and make sure to share with your friends lewishowes.com/767 tag myself @lewishowes and tag Greg as well on Instagram to let us know what you enjoyed about this the most.
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Big thank you to our sponsors today and I am so excited about this one. Again, make sure to share with your friends, let me know what you think over on Instagram take a screenshot of this podcast right now and post it over there so we can connect. Without further ado let’s dive into this with the one and the only Greg Louganis.
Welcome everyone back to the school of greatness podcast we have a living legend in the house Greg Louganis, thank you so much for being here. One of the icons in the Olympics. Greatest diver of all time and you just had an incredible life story beyond being an Olympian, multiple gold medal winner. I’m still sad that you didn’t compete what was it the 1980 Olympics?
Greg: Oh yeah, boycott was 1980.
Lewis: You were 16 when you did the first Olympics in 76 and you’re just like taking over the world by storm. You got a silver medal there?
Greg: I got a silver medal there then I was world champion 2 years later.
Lewis: What was that like during that time where, did you want to boycott or was it just like?
Greg: Well, I mean because I was one of the team captains for the diving team and so the team captains from all the different sports got together and we were kind of addressing this because we were in DC and we were gonna have a chance to talk to President Carter and all that. So, it was our feeling that we have such a strong team in 1980 swimming and so many other sports, so we wanted to go and send 1 person into the opening and closing ceremonies and everybody stayed back and protest, but go over there and kick ass basically. So that was what we wanted but our voice were never heard because president Carter made his address then the media was escorted out. And then we were able to give our views and let our voices be heard, unfortunately our voices weren’t heard but you live and learn. I kind of think back at it too is that, in some ways it might have been a blessing for me because in 1980 diving was something I was good at, it wasn’t something I was necessarily enjoyed.
Lewis: Why didn’t you enjoyed?
Greg: Well because I was in theater, I was looking forward to pursuing my acting and getting on whether it’d be New York or.
Lewis: You did dancing major in college right? So this was your college years actually 16 and you be 20 and 21.
Greg: Yes, and so had they happened had I been successful I probably would’ve gone on.
Lewis: I just feel bad for all the people that have their 1 chance but trained for 10 years, 20 years.
Greg: The way that I like to explain it to people is when you think of an elite athlete it’s like a carton of milk, it has an expiration date. And it’s like if you go past that expiration date you’re out of luck, I mean you missed that opportunity and there are so many talented athletes that missed that opportunity.
Lewis: That didn’t make it the next 4 years right? So you are luck to make the next 2 Olympics, some people didn’t make it at all though right?
Lewis: Was there anyone you knew from the 1980 time that did come back and had a successful experience?
Greg: I probably would, I’m not sure because I think he was just coming up Rody. I think Nancy Hawks, there are a few individuals that kind of were able to hang in there and stick it out, but it also depended on the sport too because I mean if you’re a gymnast. I mean women’s side young ladies they are young.
Lewis: It’s devastating your whole life mission and just get robbed of it. What was the greatest lesson you learned about yourself during that time?
Greg: You know that was really tough that was a hard pill to swallow. I wasn’t sure if I was really gonna be able to keep motivated because, well I had started diving with my coach Ronald Brian from 78 to 88 he was my coach. The one thing he was incredible at is really keeping me motivated and I mean we played games and it’s like anything you get good at practice. So one of the games we used to play was 700 game on a 10-meter platform and I didn’t like to do repeats of my dives, so if I can get out with just doing one a piece then I was gold. So in order to break 700 on a 10-meter platform I had to do all 10 dives in the 8 and a half range.
Lewis: 8 and a half?
Greg: Score 8 and a half in 10 dives he average.
Lewis: Who was the judge?
Greg: He was judge. It was interesting because sometimes I was successful sometimes I wasn’t and one time at one practice it was Gail [?] into the platform and he was waiting, and he said “Okay, we’re gonna play the 700 game.” So you know I’d get warmed up and ready to go and start going. I got through and I was jumping back and forth over that 8 and a half line, I was really close and came into the last dive and got it. So you know packed my bag left, my coach pulls me aside Ron says “You know you’re the only one who got the in the pool yesterday.”
Greg: And it was like wow, because you have to put yourself in diverse situations in order to be able to practice at a very high level, so you’re prepared. So, I always with a lot of athletes look the divers as obstacles, I looked at it as opportunity. You know there’s an opportunity to train in miserable weather how successful can I be, it’s not about perfection, perfection is unattainable but how close can you get to that mark of perfection.
Lewis: Except that time you got all perfect 10’s right? You can always get better.
Greg: We can get back the pool 4 or 5 minutes, 5 weeks, 5 months later.
Lewis: It’s all based on like what people are feeling that moment and what they saw.
Greg: Because a 10 is really emotional, I judged before and it’s like in order to you have to be touched emotionally by the performance.
Lewis: Not just the technicality of it. That’s like 9.8 but it’s when you see the emotion probably. But the
Greg: Some people would argue but some people would take it really as, you know your 10’s or kind of the emotional side.
Lewis: How would you approach your dives at the Olympics vs at practice? Would you set up and prepare like it was own Olympics or world championships every single time you step on the platform?
Greg: Not every single time because there’s different cycles of training. So sometimes you’re just trying to get the numbers in and get the muscle memory of doing the dive, of the execution of the dive. There are other times where the focus is on the performance, you are incredibly focus. That was one thing that one of my earlier coaches, he taught me in preparation for my first Olympics since 76, he would always set up this situation. Sometimes I was successful and sometimes I wasn’t but putting myself in that frame of mind, that mental state allowed to practice and rehearsed so that when I showed up because of the first Olympics that I’ve been to. That was a first world stage event that I had ever been to on a senior level. You know this was like the biggest day and it’s the Olympic games, but I was groomed I was prepared for it.
Lewis: You got the silver, were you close to getting the gold?
Greg: Actually one of the judges, RJ Smith is a judge for that Olympic game and came to I miss my 9th dive basically what happened and he came over and he thank me for my ninth dive because he said “If we didn’t miss that 9th dive and we would have to protest the scores.” You have politics in there, I think diving is kind of one of the more object/subject of sports but it’s still a subjective sport. And also this is what I tell the athletes that I work with in mentoring them is that ‘Even [?] it’s your responsibility to educate the judges, to show the judges you’re worthy of getting the 8’s, 9’s and 10’s.
Lewis: How do you show them you’re worthy? Is it the performance? Is it the energy of how you approach or just owning on results?
Greg: It’s result based because all the good wishes in the world isn’t gonna make it happen.
Lewis: Is there like energy that when a diver you know miss and their head down, does that make them less desirable of getting good scores? Is it kind of how you show up with poised or energy?
Greg: I think it’s a part of it most definitely because no matter what judges said you see this on the board and focus is on you, you’re being judge.
Lewis: And so when you were there when you were 16 what was that first dive like? First world stage at the Olympics.
Greg: The interesting thing was I won the Olympic trials in both 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform. Basically, I believed happened was the top diver they put pressure on themselves when you show up to an event, I mean there is an energy. Now, if you interpret that energy as pressure then you’re more [?] to implode, but if you interpret that energy as inspiration that is what motivates you, drives you to be better than you dream you could ever be. So, if you tap into that inspiration then you’re gonna see a lot more success.
Lewis: How did you learn how to tap into that inspiration or love feeling as opposed to pressure or fear?
Greg: Well, I started dancing when I was a year and a half and I was performing on stage when I was 3. So, when you hit the stage and the music starts there’s no stop, it’s like ‘Sorry it’s’ no you can’t you got to meddle through, fake it till you make it through. And so you learn that mentality and I think I was just so that was so engrained in me that I was able to learn how to utilize that energy of all these people, and especially as a kid you’re really self-conscious. So then the [?] in the performance the success of the performance and the applause I mean that’s tremendous.
Lewis: And you’re adopted early right? When you were 9 months old?
Greg: I spent my first 9 months in foster care.
Lewis: Where do you think you’d be if you weren’t adopted?
Greg: I don’t know I’d probably be a surfer.
Lewis: Did you ever think about that like wonder?
Greg: I connected with my biological father, he’s in Hawaii and I have a brother and 2 sisters. It was interesting because when I first met Fuvali it was after the 84 Olympic games. And so I was 24 at this time and so then I met Shirlyn, Jerlyn, and Malcolm. And Malcolm was in, I think he was in weightlifting at the time and then he went into bodybuilding and then powerlifting. So he was quite the athlete, I was on water and he was on land. I always knew because when I was adopted one of the nurses said who met my parents, she stated that my father wanted to raise me, so I always knew he wanted me. That also goes back to the [?] culture and that’s what families do they don’t give up their children, it may be a relative but it stays in the family.
Lewis: Do you feel like you were driven to achieve at such a high level because of being adopted by any chance? Do you feel like that was a driving force to prove these people wrong or show them?
Greg: I think it was a combination whether it’d be adoption my sexual identity, I mean it was any number of things that were really contributing factors into that desperation of having to succeed early on in my diving career. It was really challenging growing up.
Lewis: There’s not much young boys doing dance in theater?
Greg: Yeah. So you know when I was getting beat up at the bus stop, my father would drive by, I felt like my father felt like these other kids feel.
Lewis: You felt like?
Greg: Yeah that I wasn’t worthless and was a sissy boy because he never got involve with my dance. But when I took care of him the last 6 weeks of his life he died of cancer, he shared with me that when I was performing that he would sneak out of work and come and watch me. I never knew, he never told me or never shared that with me until he was ready die.
Lewis: What was the greatest lesson you learn from your adopted parents?
Greg: I think the greatest lesson that I learned was from my mom, because she was my champion and when you’re that young you don’t have mentors and really you have champions and she was my champion. She taught me about unconditional love and not just, it wasn’t just words she embodied it, she was who she was. And I asked her some questions about you know some of the challenges I had with a sister that I was raised with and she said “That’s your sister, she is who she is and I love her unconditionally.” So I mean it really kind of solidified that it is possible that unconditional love is possible.
Lewis: Doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything or be excited about certain decisions or choices you make but you still love them. So the unconditional love from your mom, and your dad?
Greg: My dad he was more of a skeptic, so it was be cautious, look before you lead kind of thing.
Lewis: What qualities that they embodied that inspire you to be so driven? Towards all your activity not just diving, do you feel like if they guided you to be a champion or were there outside factors or internal factors?
Greg: I think initially there are a lot of internal factors and that proving myself like I said when I first in the world stage diving, my success came from a desperate place in order for me to be loved or worthy of being loved I had to win, and I was trying to gain the respect and love from my dad.
Lewis: Really? You didn’t feel love from him growing up?
Greg: Like it was conditional. You felt that way?
Lewis: I felt that way not from my parents but everyone else around me, like I didn’t have friends growing up, I was the youngest of 4 and I was just picked on and bullied a lot and I couldn’t like read and write till I got to late high school. Everything about school was a disaster until 3 o’clock when sports came around and that’s where I channel all my energy. It’s like something I can finally understand just all putting into like something simple and learning to how to just vision, I had great vision I knew where to be but I didn’t know how to read and write. So, I just got made fun a lot for being like in special needs classes.
Greg: It is interesting because there’s so many incredible athletes Bruce now Caitlyn Jenner. There is some incredible athletes that have really made their mark on the world stage and talking with lot of them growing up, and you may have felt this way too you didn’t have your academics but you can show people that you can do something and you have value.
Lewis: Absolutely and that’s why I have to win at all cost too. When I lost I would just be miserable around for days until the next competition.
Greg: Because you’re, I don’t I know the same way that I felt too is that my training, my competition was a reflection of my self-esteem. So when I was successful I am on top of the world and when I’m not successful I am worthless.
Lewis: I think that’s a challenge because we are so condition acknowledge the people who are succeeding in business or the career or having successful relationships and we put so much of our self-worth into our self-accomplishment as opposed to the progress we make or the generosity we have, or the kindness in our heart.
Greg: Has that evolve for you?
Lewis: I think it has. For me it has over the last 6 years I’ve gone on a much deeper journey where I achieved everything for the first few years of my life, all my dreams I was achieving. I was achieving but feeling so miserable inside and I didn’t understand why until about 6 years ago started to go on a journey and heal everything from my past. I talked about sexual abused I went through when I was 5 from men I didn’t know. I talked about my brother who was in prison for years, my parents getting divorced and for me a lot of people have gone worse but for me it was a lot to deal with at the time and I never addressed it. As a straight white man in sports growing up we weren’t allowed to express, there was no groups to talk to about. If I try to talk to guy friends they would just get off. It’s just hard you couldn’t express yourself.
Greg: Do you find yourself kind of going back and forth sometimes over that embracing of like all the parts of yourself?
Lewis: Yeah, but I only go back for moments for so quick to be aware. That’s why gratitude is a huge part of my life because when I’m in gratitude it just fills my heart with more love and fear and pain.
Greg: Where did you get that lesson?
Lewis: I think a lot of suffering, a lot of like breakdown where finally, I’ve been doing this podcast for 6 years I’ve been interviewing some of the world’s greatest spiritual leaders and just tons of emotional workshop I think through taking action on diving through the pain and the emotions and communicating the realization I’ve been coming up. And I’ve practicing the last 6 years so I learned a lot these 6 years, because I can go back to a place.
Greg: Do you schedule that?
Lewis: Every morning you know my voicemail when someone calls me, my first thing is if you want to leave a message you have to tell me what you’re grateful for first. So throughout the day I am always expressing gratitude and journal about what I am grateful for at night and talking about the constant reminds of my life. And I think it’s challenging because as an athlete you can understand and appreciate this. We are so used to coming competition over the next big event, what’s the thing that we can chase after and when? And when there’s no big competition it’s like how do we value our self-worth? So, I learned to be more focus on like what I can control, like did I show today and take care of my health? Did I do a tough workout? I haven’t made the Olympics, I am in the USA team for the last 7 and a half to 8 years and now we have qualified since 96 since it was in Atlanta. So it was like am I worthy even if I haven’t qualified for the Olympics? Just like a constant reminder of every day an opportunity to grow and as long as I can focus on growth then I feel good in my heart.
Some even challenging because so many guys in the NFL that I know are living in the glory days in the past, it’s like I used to be this great athlete, I used to get the recognition and I can only imagine almost like, I have some Olympic friends somewhat bad for. They had all these fame when they’re 18 or 20 of world stage and then they don’t know what their identity is anymore. I can only imagine that is worse like I don’t know not making at all and like constantly progressing, it’s like you’re at the top and now who are you? Have you ever face that?
Greg: Yeah most definitely. I think it’s one of those things because it is such a high. So, I think it’s something that’s why I ask you if you go back and forth with that because it’s hard to like stay on point, stay in that positive because we always have challenges and they can come from God knows where. But most definitely after I retired from diving, I actually announced 2 retirements I was supposed to retire after the 84 Olympic games. I was dead set I got my 2 Olympic gold medals, I won a national right after so it was record number of national titles from any other diver, and then I was gonna retire. So, the thing was in 84 I was pushing, I was one of the athlete representative that was pushing to have trust funds to put into place for the younger divers so that they can continue diving after college and have the financial means to be able to do that. So, I went to the president at that time of USA diving and his response to me was “You’re the only one that it affects and you’re retiring so we don’t have to put the money into getting trust funds put into place.” So it was my intent to stay eligible until the time that trust funds was put into place for younger divers because at least I would have done something for the younger divers coming behind.
Lewis: The legacy.
Greg: Yeah, and so and as it turned out it took 2 years to get done. Trust fund was put into place and I found myself at the world championships, I was successful I won the world championship in 10-meter platform and my coach turns to me and “2 more years.” I was like okay 2 more years I can wrap my head around for 2 more years. And so I’m in there for another 2 years and but never did in my wildest dreams would I realize what that meant.
Lewis: What did it mean?
Greg: 6 months prior to the Olympic games I was diagnosed HIV positive and so.
Lewis: It was extremely controversial that time right?
Greg: Oh you didn’t say a word about it.
Lewis: I mean being gay at that time was like you didn’t talk about that right? It’s like that was looked down upon.
Greg: It was interesting because I was out to my friends and family you know once I went to college. And so but then after the 84 Olympic games I sign on with [?] agency it was like “Greg tone down the gay thing.” So my policy was not to discuss my personal life to the media, I mean there’s play read between the lines you can read it out. But HIV oh my God I mean my thought was when I had my test got sent out and my thought was before I got the test results back was I was dead set if I was HIV positive and I was gonna pack my bags because I was training in Florida at that time. Packed my bags go back to California locked myself in my house and wait to die, because that’s what we thought about HIV at that time, it was a death sentence. I mean people weren’t lasting more than a couple of years after their diagnosis. We have friends dying right and left so that was my thought but my cousin who was my doctor in Florida, he convince me to stay and train and that was the healthiest thing for me.
Lewis: So you got the results back and he said stay and train?
Greg: That he said he wanted to treat me aggressively and that he’d take care of the medical stuff and Ronald O’Brian would take care of the dieting stuff and also it was easier for me to focus on something like diving because a lot more positive. I am really grateful for that because at least I had the dieting that I wasn’t focus on oh my God HIV, I’m dying. So, I had something positive to focus so I think that that really enabled to learn some coping skills surrounding that my HIV status and all definitely was the healthiest thing for me.
Lewis: How did you stay focus when you thought like I’m gonna die in 2 years? How did you stay positive and focus when seemingly the worst thing that can happen happened?
Greg: When you’re in that zone flow whatever you want to call it, I like to refer to it as slipping into that space between air and time, you know that nothing else exist it’s just that moment in time. So it can be joyful because it was something familiar, it was I’d experienced this before so it was very inviting. In my imagination these other things start to exist, so the only thing that exist is right here now in that moment.
Lewis: How did you handle the emotions of your heart of like seeing like get a phone call or a letter that says HIV positive, how did your heart do? I mean did you feel like exploding? And how do you cope or process that to not just go down this destructive path?
Greg: I think it’s almost impossible not to go there. But fortunately my cousin came over where I was living and he delivered the news and at least had somebody to talked to. And so we talked and talked and it’s like okay, I have this certain idea in my head and he shuttered that.
Lewis: What did he say?
Greg: Well the only drug we had at that time was AZT and you had to qualify for it. And so my T count was 214, it had to be under 200 T-cells to qualify for it but I think the next test that I did it was under 200 so I qualified. I met with Anthony the CDC he was great, very supportive, I have very small group of people who knew about my HIV status because we were learning and we were learning as we were going. So any medications that I was prescribed we had to make sure that my doctor, my cousin he would call the Olympic training center to make sure the medications run and substance less. So it was interesting.
Lewis: Who was the most influential person within a year after you learned about having HIV in your life that support you? That you couldn’t have got through without this person.
Greg: I probably have to say there are 3 individuals. I didn’t want to tell my parents so they didn’t know until years later, because I didn’t want to worry my mom, I figured if I were to get sick then I can tell her so she wouldn’t have to stress over. But the 3 people who were really keyed in my ability to stay positive was my coach Ronald O’Brian, dear friend of mine Debby Shawn she’s an attorney but she is like my big sister, and then Katy Shawn her sister who was a doctor. So a lawyer and a doctor got them covered right, but they actually took me into their home. So they were there for me opened their doors for me.
Lewis: Was this abusive relationship how you got the AIDS/HIV?
Greg: You know what a lot of people want, I mean even my dad he wanted to blame Jim but honestly I believed that I was probably infected prior to Jim. I think we both came to relationship positive, I don’t know because I wasn’t tested that time but my previous partner before Jim he passed from complications of AIDS. I think that a lot of us that were exposed were expose before we, obviously before safe sex like that. We knew about safe sex after, I mean I thought I was a serial monogamist, so it’s like when I’m with someone that’s it. And so I figured I was probably safe.
Lewis: So can you educate me on AIDS right now HIV? Because everyone was dying a couple of years but now there’s certain drugs and medications to extend life very long.
Greg: Generally, even if you start you look pretty normal life expectancy. People are dying of old age you know heart disease and arthritis; I mean they’re having issues with that.
Lewis: Having a long life.
Greg: I mean they found how the attack virus in various ways.
Lewis: Without attacking the rest of your body?
Greg: There’s still some. I mean the medications are hard on your liver. So, I do acupuncture and Chinese herbs to support, for liver support.
Lewis: You look great, you look young and vibrated and healthy.
Greg: Can you believe I look almost 60?
Lewis: Crazy, I hope I look this healthy when I’m 60. You look fit, you’re joyful full of love. So you’ve been living with this for 30 years? Is that right?
Lewis: So you have to take medication daily?
Greg: The drug regimen I am now it’s in the morning and the evening. My HIV meds I have to take 3 meds in the morning, 3 meds in the evening, but I do a lot of supplements Chinese herbs and also like I said a lot of medications that their [?] to the liver it’s really hard on the liver. So, actually I learn more from my Chinese herbalist and acupuncture that I do my regular doctor and he’s like up on where am at.
Lewis: What is the biggest challenged you feel like you’ve faced your entire life?
Greg: The biggest challenge, that’s a hard one because once you get through that door it’s no longer a challenge. I mean when I was diagnosed with HIV you would think, but once you get through that door and you realized everything is okay. Losing my father taking care of him the last 6 weeks of his life, I mean that goodbye that was a challenge, because we come so far because we didn’t always have the best relationship and then we made peace with each other those last, actually that last year because he was diagnosed with cancer and I came out to him about my HIV status so it became a crusade of life and quality of life. Losing my mother that was tremendous loss.
Lewis: How did that make you feel?
Greg: It was I think in some ways harder now than it was then, because when you’re going through it you’re in the heat of it and you’re taking care of everybody else and not always taking care of yourself. I think it’s, I mean I still talk to her write her letters and even to do this day so she has a tremendous impact on me.
Lewis: What’s the thing you love about her the most?
Greg: Her laugh, I think that’s that I miss most her laugh. She was genuine she was real with me and not afraid to, I mean we have this connection it was really bizarre, when I was at college it was like ‘I got to call mom’ when I call her she’s I think going off, actually she was on the verge of asking for a divorce, actually my dad asking for a divorce, so that was kind of a turmoil for her and I just sense it. So we just had that connection.
Lewis: Of all the accomplishments you’ve had from sports to activism, theater, movies, and all things you’ve done what’s the most thing you’re proud of?
Greg: I think the thing that I probably most proud of there’s so many thing, I mean I reach out to Ryan White when the people magazine article came out about this young boy who’s hemophiliac who contracted the HIV virus back in 87 I think it was. He experienced a lot of hate because you know any hate or anger or anything like that stems from fear from a place of fear, so I reach out to him and invited to the national championships in Indianapolis and I felt like if people saw that I wasn’t afraid of him and maybe they wouldn’t be so afraid. So I mean there’s those type of things, oh probably I’ve said this in the past in my book breaking the surface, because when I was on book tour I had numerous people come to me and say ‘you save my life’ whether it was about surrounding HIV or sexual identity or relationship or you know whatever it was being bullied, because when I was the book was being publish my feeling before I went on book tour was I was sharing my weaknesses. It’s not very manly or masculine to admit that you are raped or that you’re in an abusive relationship or that you’re gay. So, I felt like I suffered from depression so I felt like I was sharing my weaknesses but when I was on book tour I realized by sharing my weaknesses I was actually sharing my strength.
Lewis: It’s challenging.
Greg: Yeah, and so but I find that being able to let go of that stuff that judgement and all living your life, living your own truth, I mean it’s a daily challenge but it’s you’re more up to embody that truth that you can move through life with integrity that you do what you say and say what you do and be true to it. It is so hard for other people to do that but the first person that you really, like when you’re coming out first person you have to come out to is yourself, the first person that you have to be honest with and brutally honest with is yourself. So once you accept that truth then you can, you don’t have to apologize for anything you can just be.
Lewis: Is it hard coming out to yourself?
Lewis: How old were you when you came to yourself first?
Greg: Well, I mean I think I knew there was, I didn’t put sexuality to it I think I knew when I was really young. So it’s weird and also giving up the idea of needing validation for anything. It was funny because I was doing dive camp in Arizona and a bunch of little kids and I told them to do something kind for mother earth and not look for any recognition, you know do it and not tell anybody. So I said looking to a piece of trash or complimenting somebody or you know being supportive. And so we were at a lunch break we were just finishing up our lunch break and I’m going around and picking up trash and then one of the mothers of the kids said “Oh my God you really do that stuff.” It was like yeah that’s, why wouldn’t I be? I mean because ultimately we have to be examples. I mean I learned by example I mean I’m also sober, so I’ve been sober for 12 to 13 years. My sponsor is I never told him he was my sponsor for years because I learned by example and what he would say in his classes and share and his journey, that’s where I learned that he lives it and that’s what I want to do too.
Lewis: Be the example. When you’re teaching about virtualization at these dive camps or any other athletes or training 1 on 1 how do you translate what you learned from experience visually with imagery? Because I know visualization I did it 4 years, how do you translate teaching that emotion that feeling to get in flow? What do you tell people?
Greg: Well the first thing with visualization is I learn [?] because I learned visualization when I was 3 and that was I’m sure by accident, my dance instructor said “Okay, imagine yourself doing the routine” and she played the music and left the room. And so that’s how I learned visualization and then later on I learned relaxation exercise when I was going through puberty, I was suffering from anxiety and stress related stuff. What I learned in teaching visualization to people ballroom dancers, divers I had to start with the relaxation, take them through the relaxation exercises. Then they would have a better opportunity for success in their visualization work. The one thing that when I start with somebody with visualization work is that I start with something totally away from whatever activity they want to visualized.
Lewis: Like what?
Greg: Well I have several kind of fun exercises, I think let’s see there’s a rollercoaster ride and there’s riding a horse, those 2 because it’s wild and trying to get them to use all of their senses. You know because when those adrenalin starts amping up then you get. So the horse ride and the rollercoaster really taps into the adrenaline. The one that I really enjoy especially with kids is I tell them “You’re gonna bake some cookies. Okay pick somebody that you want to bake some cookies with.” So there’s an emotional connection to that person and then I go through the measuring of the sugar and the flour and the texture and the butter and the smell of the extract. So they go through all of their senses and I try to encourage them to use their other senses, because you never know what’s gonna come out to the forefront as far as their strength. That’s how I teach visualization that it is totally removed from what the activity is because that’s important, because if it goes wrong in the activity that their wanting to do then it has a tendency of going wrong in real life.
Lewis: Interesting. So you have them practice other activity first then you take them to the dive and to the sport after that?
Greg: Not necessarily, I let them hang out there and then it’s almost like their muscles you know your flexing and using to utilize. So the more that you flex those muscles the more fun that you can have in doing the more likely you are to practice and do it.
Lewis: I’ve never heard someone talking about visualizing other activity first to heighten your senses and then step into yours when you’re ready, I like that I’m gonna start doing that of smelling.
Greg: It’s funny because every time I done that with kids especially it’s like “Oh my God I got to go to the subway and get some cookies.”
Lewis: I got a couple of final questions for you this one is called the 3 truths. So, I asked everyone this at the end, so I want you to imagine it’s your last day many years from now on earth but you got to pick the day eventually and got to leave. You’ve accomplished everything you want to accomplish in your life from now till that day happens you’ve live the life you want. And for whatever reason you got to go and you got to take all of your accomplishments, medals, books all got to go with you. So no one has access to your content anymore, but you get to write down in a piece of paper 3 things you know to be true about life, the 3 biggest lessons you’ve learned or what I’d like to say the 3 truths that you would share with the world, what would be your 3 truths?
Greg: Nothing really matters except now. Life is a game play it. Have to say validation is redundant.
Lewis: What does that mean?
Greg: You don’t need to be validated, I mean if you are true to yourself and authentic you know there’s no apology there’s just who you are. So, it means no obviously because then very much about love you know it’s got to come from a loving place and it’s got to be embodied and loved.
Lewis: When do you feel the most loved?
Greg: Sometimes I asked kids to do workshops in camps, there and definitely with my dogs. That’s true and unconditional love and they don’t know anything else. So it’s either unconditional love or fear because any aggression or anything that it stems from fear, I also try dogs and it’s very much where and in tune with reading those signs of stress and fear. So, I just want my dogs to be feel loved and safe.
Lewis: How do you create that feeling for dogs or humans?
Greg: Through games.
Lewis: What type of games?
Greg: I mean one thing that I am going through right now is trying to build confidence in one of the dogs that they have. So I’m teaching her tricks, so that’s always fun for me and fun for her because it gets her mind thinking and not worrying or something like that. That’s one thing that I learned in competing in dog agility is that I would always teach my dog some really solid tricks that they can do at the start line so it kind of get them focus on the dog agility.
Lewis: It’s kind of like visualization of another activity for a dog for the activity itself. You’re truly translating what you’ve learned in sports to dogs that’s great.
Greg: You know years ago when I first started with O’Brian that was one of the first thing “You know I do better when I’m smiling and having fun.” Actually at the world championships that year 78 he did come up at my practice because whether it was miserable it was in Berlin, it was rainy, cloudy and cold I’m a fair weather diver and it was just miserable and I was just having horrible workout and then he came up while I was under the shower trying to get warm and he kicked me in the ass and walks away. And then at this facility they have an elevator so I’m in the elevator going up to the 10-meter, I told him to kick me in the ass if I’m not having fun so I started laughing and then I got my [?] face on and like look down.
Lewis: That’s why I think your truth about life is game played, I think if we’re not playing daily lives if we’re not being playful, if we’re not having fun it’s so much more serious and as you know as an athlete you can’t get like the flow without having fun.
Greg: Well that was when I hit my head on the diving board everybody was like that’s all they remember, but I did come back and win so I can’t be the agony of defeat. But that was if you look at the clip at the very next dive I set the board, they announce the dive and you could hear gasp from the audience from where I was standing. So it kind of told me that they were afraid for me and I was afraid for me to before I went to, after that next dive before hitting my head because it was in the same direction. So, I took a deep breath and I pounded my chest because I felt like my heart was pounding inside my chest and then the people around who saw that chuckled. And so I started laughing and like these people are in my corner.
Lewis: I love this good stuff. One final question but before I do you got a movie you’re working on?
Greg: Yeah, it’s biopic we’re working with production company in London, so we’re trying to get that.
Lewis: Amazing. What else do you have working on that we can support with?
Greg: Louganis.com books there and movies there and I’m also the director for red bull cliff diving world series. The season is gonna be starting shortly, also looking to my website an online coaching.
Lewis: Like a diving coaching or mental?
Greg: Mental whether it’s relaxation or visualization or to be able to achieve your goals. I mean it was so funny because one of our divers kept [?], I gave this breathing exercise when I did the TV show splash I gave that breathing exercise and then she pipes in I didn’t think she was listening. To be able to achieved what you don’t believe and hear that you can achieve.
Lewis: So that’s all gonna be at Louganis.com right the coaching. I want to acknowledge you for a moment for your incredible joy that you bring to the world because you’ve been through so many different challenges, you’ve been through what people would think of some of the worst challenges to go through, things that they would hate to happen to them and you’ve gone through them with grace and peace and loved, not all the time but it looks like you’ve process everything that’s gone through your life in such a peaceful loving way. And you’ve used the energy to be one of the best athletes ever to you know pursue your dreams, help humanity and for me that’s so inspiring and you’re an amazing symbol of love and joy and I want to acknowledge you for all the gifts you have in the world.
My final question for you is what’s your definition of greatness?
Greg: My definition of greatness. Thinking and acting beyond yourself.
Lewis: Thank you so much.
There you have it my friends the greatness immunity is taking the world over. We have so many people who are listening to these episodes and to these episodes every single week. Learning, growing, connecting there’s a community online where people are supporting one another and I want you to be a part of this and subscribe to the podcast. How can we find meaning and more purpose in life with everything we do? With our health, relationships, career, our business and our purpose in life. This is episode number 767 with Greg Louganis, make sure to share this with your friends.
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To bring it back at the beginning Christopher Reeve said “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” John Quincy Adams said “Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulty is disappear and obstacles vanished.” You are a hero; you are someone who can overcome ordinary challenges every single day to create extraordinary results, it’s all about the consistency of showing up. You don’t have to be perfect you just have to continue to show up each and every day and try to be a little bit better than the day before. You are loved, you matter and your dreams matter and I hope you enjoy this episode. Thank you so much for being here and you know what time it is, it’s time to go out there and do something great.
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