HIVers pumping! Biking! Blading! No, they're not selling AIDS drugs. These
five gym bunnies, who all hail from Houston, just want to feel good.
Alan Huff takes notes as they go for the gold.
In 1997, Boyd Edwards called it a good day if he stayed awake for
eight straight hours. His chronic fatigue, at low levels for years
since his HIV infection, had escalated dramatically after starting
Crixivan (indinavir). "I'd move from the bed to the couch," the
former nurse recalls, "and then find myself out of breath and
needing to lie down." Switching to a combo of saquinavir (Fortovase)
and nelfinavir (Viracept) reduced the fatigue sufficiently so he
could slowly restart regular exercise, a practice he'd abandoned
years earlier, leaving him badly out of shape and then some. Edwards
began with light weight training -- "the first two weeks were hell"
-- and gradually added aerobics. "Within a few weeks, my energy
level was way up and I began regaining muscle mass." A year later,
he added water aerobics (done in a pool), which is especially
helpful for people with chronic illness. Eventually he became so
gung-ho that he trained as an instructor. Edwards' before-and-after
stats are telling: pre-routine, he weighed 220 pounds and his body
fat was a whopping 30 percent (8 to 18 percent is optimal for guys,
12 to 22 percent for gals). Today, Edwards is a fit-as-a-fiddle 190
pounds, 19 percent of it fat. But more important, he now has the
strength and stamina to work out three times a week, each day doing
water and land aerobics and progressive resistance exercise. "To
appreciate where I am now, you should have seen me in the
beginning," he says. "I have more energy, I look better, and
mentally I feel like a million bucks."
For HIVers seeking to improve quality of life, "encouraging
exercise is one of the most beneficial recommendations," says Ed
Kinser, whose Kinetic Sports Clinic in Houston helps HIVers pump and
sweat their way past wasting. Countless studies confirm what common
sense suggests: A custom-made exercise program gives your health a
big boost, protecting everything from your immune system to your
lean body mass, and improving your appetite, energy, mood and even
absorption of meds. Getting the lead out of your ass and pushing
yourself can also build muscle in your self-esteem.
Your regimen should include three types of fitness: aerobics,
strength training and stretching -- ideally all in the same program.
Aerobic exercise includes walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming or
anything else that significantly increases your heartbeat for at
least 20 minutes (sex doesn't count -- too easy). Strength training,
which usually includes lifting weights, is one of the best ways to
increase lean body mass. This type of exercise improves your ability
to do day-to-day activities, creates better sleep patterns and can
enhance your sense of well-being. Stretching at the beginning or end
of your program increases your muscles' range of motion, helping to
develop the flexibility that is important for balance, mobility and
How to get started? Houston exercise physiologist, HIVer Jaymes Alexander, and body-building bruiser, recommends beginning -- as
Edwards did -- with light to low-intensity activity for the first
few weeks to improve conditioning without overstressing the immune
function. Then gradually ramp up. "Your plan should consist of
exercising three to four times a week on alternate days to give the
muscles a chance to rest and rebuild." He says, ideally, this should
include at least 20 minutes of aerobic activity and eight to 10
resistance exercises that train major muscle groups. Consulting a
trainer is key to learning proper techniques for avoiding injury.
Alexander adds two cautions: "Always have a certified trainer help
you tailor a program to your needs. And before starting out, consult
your doc for advice on how your ability to exercise may be affected
by HIV-related conditions and possible side effects of meds."
But the toughest part can be taking the first step. Most HIVers
know that exercise is good for you, but -- excuses, excuses -- they
can't get motivated. The best tip, experts agree, is to pick types
of exercise you enjoy. And don't set impossible goals, or be too
hard on yourself. A little exercise is better than none, and once
you get into the swing, chances are -- between the feel-good
endorphins and the look-better encouragement -- you'll be a
After two decades of pumping iron, this is Alexander's fourth
year on the competitive circuit. He's now training for the Capital of
Texas Bodybuilding Show in June.
TESTED POZ: 1994. "I was planning to enter the Reserves, so I
went for a physical. My positive result was very unexpected. I knew
there was a chance, but I was still shocked."
REGIMEN: nelfinavir/3TC/d4T, Bactrim, acyclovir. "I'm on my third
protease -- all three with no side effects. Lucky me."
STATS: 384 CD4s; less than 10,000 viral load
WEEKLY WORKOUT: "I spend anywhere from two to four hours in the
gym a day. Weights I do in a five-day session and take Saturday and
Sunday off." He works his legs daily, his abs three times a week,
and each body part -- shoulders, back, chest and arms -- once
weekly. He also does cardio sessions three times a week on the ESX
DIET: "During the season, I clean up my diet and eat extra
protein. My precontest routine starts 13 weeks before a show and
consists of lean sources of protein such as turkey and chicken
breast (no skin), tuna and other fish, and egg whites. Plus rice,
potatoes and yams for carbs."
SUPPLEMENTS: Multivitamin, vitamins C and E, and beta-carotene.
"I swear by L-glutamine to maintain my lean body mass."
MOTIVATION: "As a kid, I collected comic books and always wanted
to look like one of the superheroes."
REWARDS: "The possibility that I can inspire others to obtain
their dreams or goals, whether in bodybuilding or just taking
control of their health and life."
ADVICE: "Find a knowledgeable personal trainer who can guide you
toward what works best for you. This is paramount in making your gym
Morgan is a peer support leader and trainer for AIDS
Foundation Houston. She's also the proud mom of a daughter, 8, and will
celebrate her first wedding anniversary in June.
TESTED POZ: 1995
REGIMEN: nelfinavir/d4T/3TC, estrogen, atenolol (an
STATS: 400 CD4s; viral load: 4,000
WEEKLY WORKOUT: "After facilitating HIV support groups four days
a week, I'm tired. Exercising in my own house is convenient.
Besides, I don't have to worry about other people seeing what I have
on." Three times a week, she also indulges in "hot tub relaxation
with atmosphere music." But Tuesdays and Thursdays, she gets down to
work, with sit-ups, squats, bench-presses and brisk walking.
DIET: "I try to eat sensibly: salads, chicken, turkey and fish. I
only eat red meat occasionally, because it's hard on the digestive
system. As far as vegetables, I love corn, string beans, cabbage and
spinach. I do treat myself to desserts, and my husband's good at
surprising me with a Snickers bar."
SUPPLEMENTS: Multivitamin, vitamin E and green tea
MOTIVATION: "I was always a slim-figured person -- I even did
some modeling. But once I started taking meds, I got big all over.
Now I'm getting back in shape. My daughter and husband both make
sure I take my medications, eat healthy and exercise."
REWARDS: "My husband thinks I look good. He's always telling me
that I am the love of his life, and just knowing that he cares so
much for me makes me take better care of myself. Also, hearing my
daughter say that she's proud of her mommy and she wants to be just
like her, 'a leader.'"
ADVICE: "Surround yourself with a network of supportive people,
and they will be there for you during bad times and
A former NASA analyst, Green has been an avid fundraiser for
over a decade. His latest passion is the American Ride for the End of
TESTED POZ: 1990
REGIMEN: nevirapine/3TC/ d4T, acyclovir
STATS: 738 CD4s; undetectable viral load
WEEKLY WORKOUT: "I'm not one of those people who says, 'Oh, it's
Tuesday -- time to do abs.' If the sun is out, I'm on the bike. If
it's raining, I'm in the gym. Since I can barely find the shower in
the morning, I do all my gym training on weeknights and weekends.
Each week, I try to ride a minimum of 100 miles -- about eight to 10
hours on the road."
DIET: "Nothing fried. No pig or cow. I eat lots of rice, pasta
and grains, and at least one large salad daily. I satisfy my sweet
tooth with low-fat frozen yogurt. An Iron Man or Power Bar is also
perfect for those long bike rides."
SUPPLEMENTS: Multivitamin, calcium, magnesium, zinc; L-Arginine
and L-Ornithine (for endurance and muscle-building); and creatine,
pregnenolone and DHEA (for strength and muscle-building)
MOTIVATION: "The perception of the HIV-positive person as frail.
After being a slow, dumpy kid, I am in the best condition ever."
REWARDS: "Back in '90, 2000 seemed impossibly distant. Now no
challenge seems impossible. I am commemorating a decade of living
with HIV by riding my bicycle across both Alaska and Texas!"
ADVICE: "Break your goal down into manageable and measurable
steps. Remove the physical and mental obstacles along the way, and
stay focused on the ultimate desire. Never, ever give up!"
Woleben worked in retail management for 14 years before going
on disability in 1995. Faced with failing health, she was badgered by a
poz pal into exercising and working out.
TESTED POZ: 1989
REGIMEN: Efavirenz/ 3TC/ d4T/ abacavir, acyclovir, Bactrim,
Zoloft. "It's my eighth cocktail -- and the most successful so
STATS: 239 CD4s -- "The first time I've been above 200 since
'93"; viral load: 315. "I've been as high as 80,000."
WEEKLY WORKOUT: She works her abs three days a week, along with a
different body part each time, taking three days off in between. "On
Saturdays I try to do some type of outside aerobic activity --
roller-blading is my latest craze. I could probably lose the small
amount of belly that I do have, but I know what it's like to feel
nauseated all the time, and I'm enjoying food right now."
DIET: "Sweets are my downfall. But since I love to cook, I tend
to eat balanced meals that include lots of vegetables."
SUPPLEMENTS: Multivitamin, vitamin C, folic acid (to combat
anemia), chromium (to help digestion), milk thistle (for liver
detoxification), ginkgo biloba (for mental clarity), and omega-3 and
flaxseed oils (for energy)
MOTIVATION: "I battle fatigue on a daily basis. Some days I don't
even feel like getting dressed, much less doing my hair. But knowing
that after my workout I will have so much more energy and a sense of
accomplishment gets my butt to the gym."
REWARDS: "Bathing-suit season. Now my friends say I not only look
great, but I'm getting to be too muscular. I think they're
ADVICE: "Choose activities that you get pleasure from. And
remember to share your achievements -- they can be a great motivator
After winning the U.S. National Championship for the American Aerobics Association, Perez founded Ernest and Company Fitness.AEROBICS/CARDIOVASCULAR
TESTED POZ: 1987. "For the first seven years, I told no one but
my family and a few friends. I came out publicly about my HIV status
at the 1994 Gay Games."
REGIMEN: Saquinavir/AZT/3TC, Bactrim and acyclovir. "The meds
slow me down, and I don't have time to be slow right now."
STATS: "Hovering between 16 and 112 CD4s for six years"; viral
WEEKLY WORKOUT: Teaches five one-hour weight-training,
strength-building and aerobics (both low-impact and step) classes a
day, beginning at 5 a.m. and going strong until 8 p.m. Sunday is his
day off. "Because I burn a lot of calories teaching, I try to do at
least two days in the weight room just on my own."
DIET: "I eat all day -- I have to. If I don't, I become a total
bitch and can't teach very well. I take in a lot of protein and
carbs. I don't eat a lot of junk food -- food is fuel for me."
SUPPLEMENTS: Multivitamin, B-complex and vitamin C
MOTIVATION: "When I'm teaching a class, I'm on stage. I love
watching them laugh. If you're in my class and not showing me your
pearly whites, I'm on you."
REWARDS: "Realizing we're making a difference in people's lives.
Also owning my own place: When somebody gives me grief, I just ask
them whose name is out front."
ADVICE: "Find something fun. It doesn't matter if it's exercising
at home with Richard Simmons' 'Sweating to the Oldies.' And don't
work out alone. You'll have days when you're down, but if you train
with a partner or a group, you'll catch their energy."
"Through training, I've learned to forgive my
body for not being tall, blond and beautiful, and to revel instead
in its strength and stamina."
So here I am, on this blue-sky fall day, pushing my body down
South Street with few of the other 5,000 runners in the Philadelphia
Marathon in sight. Some cops directing traffic give me the thumbs
up; others look at me like I'm a pain in their ass for keeping them
away from their Sunday barbecues. But I smile at each one. No bad
karma is going to intrude on my hard-won self-esteem.
I always wanted to run a marathon. In 1990, my last year of
college, I was a fitness trainer majoring in phys ed. My final paper
was on training athletes for events, with myself as my subject,
going through six months of extensive workouts that included long
runs, sprints and weights. I had a Reebok body that turned heads.
During this period, I nonchalantly walked into the department of
health and took an HIV test. My new guy and I had decided that once
we both tested negative, we could finally have the wild and crazy
sex that we'd been murmuring about during our fluid-free make-out
sessions. When my test came back positive, the relationship ended
(later that same day), and I went into another world. I became
afraid of my body. Afraid of the sexual attention it attracted.
Afraid that it might deteriorate right before my eyes. So I guarded
my body carefully, padding it with donuts, candy and cake -- food
that hadn't touched my lips in a decade. No one looked at me
After I graduated, I moved back to my hometown in Pennsylvania
and never did anything more physically stressful than taking a walk.
I wore one-size-fits-all shapeless clothes; I made decisions in a
sugar haze; I was (I see now) in shock. For years I struggled with
my weight, finally "redefining" my fat as "goddess flesh" in my
search for peace with my body. Then, in 1997, I had a little brush
with death: My platelets were revolting because of an HIV-related
bone-marrow disease, and I was bleeding like crazy. I ended up
having a hysterectomy. After surgery, I could barely walk.
The six months it took me to recover were more than a physical
bottom; I was filled with fear. What I needed was to find a way to
reaffirm my capacity to live a full life. When I heard that cyclist
Lance Armstrong had won the Tour de France while battling testicular
cancer, I decided that training for the 26.2-mile Philadelphia
Marathon was just the affirmation I needed. I wanted to push and
push and push -- and stop allowing HIV to dictate what I could
For 10 months, I ran six days a week, rain or shine, usually
clocking two to four miles along the Delaware River. On Sundays I'd
wake up at 5:00 a.m. and do my long runs, starting off at 10 miles
and building up to 22. In winter, the path hardened, giving me shin
splints. In summer, I carried bottles of water in my jog bra and in
both hands. My day off was reserved for the weekly transfusion that
helps me cope with my platelet problem -- the only AIDS medication I
take. The side effects -- fatigue, nausea, anemia and ice-cold
extremities -- can be brutal, but fortunately they last only a
Now, at mile six, I am wondering what happened to all that
training. There are 20.2 miles to go, and my legs feel like lead. I
find myself keeping pace with an old guy running alone in a t-shirt
that reads "The Abominable Slow Man." Everyone cheers him on. While
we run together, he tells me about his back surgeries and how hard
it is to keep his 78-year-old body moving. I tell him about my
medical challenges, carefully editing out AIDS. We agree that
running makes us feel alive. Suddenly I realize I've slowed my pace
and am feeling better. I move on ahead with renewed faith. I started
this running thing to feel strong about my body. I lost a little
weight but a ton of negative thinking. Through training, I've
learned to forgive my body for not being tall, blond and beautiful,
and to revel instead in its strength and stamina. Now, whenever I
feel tempted by some popular diet, I remind myself: It could all end
tomorrow -- do I really want my last meal on Earth to be a Slimfast
As I run through the open fields of Fairmont Park, I think of my
friend Dawn Averritt, who is trekking the entire length of the
Appalachian Trail on a five-drug combination therapy. For a moment,
I feel her by my side, telling me I can do this. Suddenly I'm hit
with memories of all the people I've lost in the past decade, and I
stifle a sob. Some died bitter and angry, others just resigned. It's
always messy, and with little grace. And they're all a part of me
My feet begin to blister at mile 11. As I reach a point where the
race doubles back on itself, I pass near the finish line. Some
marathoners are already there, but I'll be running for at least two
and a half more hours. How easy it would be to fade into the crowd,
take off my race numbers and disappear. But I need to finish this
race as much as I need to breathe. The pain worsens, each body part
taking its turn to curse me -- first feet, then right knee, next
left shoulder, finally back. But I'm on autopilot. At mile 20, I
turn and head back the way I came for the final 6.2. By mile 24
every part of my body is shrilly complaining, and I am near collapse
-- but my mind is focused only on the road.
At mile 25 a prerecorded message announces, "You are almost done
with the Philadelphia Marathon. Smile and show your numbers." I
manage a grimace for the camera. Then I start to pick up speed. In
the last half-mile strangers cheer and yell, "You're almost there."
It becomes my mantra: You're almost there, almost there, almost
there. I repeat it through clenched teeth as tears flow down my
cheeks. I can see the finish line. As I cross it, a man comes over
and asks if I am all right. I break down: I made it.
The night before, I almost talked myself out of racing. I had a
million excuses. But I ignored them, and I'm glad. I don't know if
my next marathon will be a 26.2 race through Philadelphia or a trek
through the Himalayas. I do know that I will never use my illness as
an excuse for anything again.
Trained for less than a year to run the Philadelphia Marathon. A
fitness trainer before diagnosis, she let it all go to flab with a
vengeance. Now she's up and running again.
JOB: Poet, activist, speaker
TESTED POZ: 1990
REGIMEN: A weekly IV platelet transfusion (winRho) for
HIV-related bone marrow disease
STATS: 620 CD4s; viral load, 450
WEEKLY WORKOUT: "I usually run six days a week, but right now I'm
training for the Pump 'n' Run. You go five kilometers, then you do
as many reps of chest pressing 60 percent of your body weight as you
can. For every rep, you shave one minute off your time. This is
something I could win!"
DIET: "My diet is highly nutrient-dense, very focused. I can only
have four ounces of protein at each meal, and I get most complex
carbohydrates from vegetables."
SUPPLEMENTS: A one-a-day multivitamin; River adds glutamine and
amino acids during training