In 1990 Greg Hill and his partner Ed Watts were both diagnosed with HIV. Ed got sick, but Greg didn’t. In two years time, Ed had died and Greg was living as though he was going to die. He was in denial. He took himself off meds, he sold his business, and he spent all the insurance money Ed had left to him.
But Greg didn’t die. In fact, he wasn’t even sick. He was healthy. In May of 2000, he moved to the small town of Healdsburg along the Russian River and began working at Sonoma Tilemakers. From 2000 to 2008 he worked without a single sick day. He didn’t even have a doctor. He left work early one day, feeling dizzy and lightheaded. Later that night he developed a fever and ended up driving himself to the Emergency Room. He was immediately admitted to the hospital with an abscess on his lung. His T cells were below 30 and 18 days later when he was released, he had lost 27 much-needed pounds.
Greg’s stint in the hospital connected him to Sonoma County’s HIV resources. He met Robert Kavanagh at a Smoking Cessation workshop at the HIV Clinic. This meeting lead to Greg’s participation in The Shanti L.I.F.E. Program , where Robert was a peer facilitator. The LIFE Program “provides participants with the knowledge, motivation, skills, and support necessary to establish and maintain health-protective routines”. While in the program, Robert passed a free gym membership on to Greg. Greg had never been athletic, nor been on a bike in 30 years, but he started taking spin classes at the gym with Robert. That year, Robert was going to be a roadie on AIDS/LifeCycle but he constantly told Greg that he wanted to return the following year as a cyclist.
When the time came, Greg drove Robert down to San Francisco for Day 0 Orientation. The next morning he took Robert to ride out. “After watching all the cyclists leave the Cow Palace, I jumped in my car and drove back home and immediately signed up for ALC9”, exclaims Greg.
Greg admits that he knew that getting involved with AIDS/LifeCycle was going to be a lot of work physically but it never crossed his mind about the people he was going to meet or the stories he was going to hear. At the time, there were no training rides in Sonoma County. Together Greg and Robert would drive to San Francisco every Friday night, crashing on a friend’s floor, so that they could join the San Francisco training rides on Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday night they’d drive back home to Sonoma County, exhausted but energized by their weekend.
Greg never had a problem coming out of the closet as being gay. He’s third generation gay on his mother’s side and two of his brothers came out after he did. Coming out as being positive was a lot more difficult for him. Those eight years he spent without ever taking a sick day, he kept his status hidden. No one needed to know. Even after his 18 days in the hospital, he never came out, oh, his co-workers had their suspicions but no one came forward and asked him if he was positive.
Greg had really isolated himself when he moved to Healdsburg, working extra long hours and keeping to himself. He didn’t want to talk about his status. He was ashamed.
It was through AIDS/LifeCycle and his involvement with the Positive Pedalers that Greg came to realize that you couldn’t eliminate stigma if you’re not open about your own status. Greg is very out at work now and finds it to be wonderfully freeing, as well as educational for his co-workers and staff. He finds it most rewarding when people who work for him, or work in another department, come to him with their questions or seeking advice.
He feels great relief at being able to come out and to wear his Pos Ped jerseys. He’s had very positive experiences while wearing the jersey too. He tells of one man in a Starbucks that pulled him aside to say that he too was positive. When he wears the Mandela jersey, total strangers ask for him to turn around so that they can read the back of the jersey.
Greg feels empowered. He had always been ashamed of his status but now knows that it is just a part of who he is. Greg invites us all to come out and be open about our status and not stick our heads in the sand like he did.