Growing up in Alaska was a little boy’s dream. Fishing! Hiking! Exploring! Every summer Friday, I looked forward to coming home from school and seeing my parents loading up the camper.

My prized possession was my Charlie Brown fishing pole. I was only 7, but I always felt like I was going to catch the hugest fish Alaska had ever seen. I remember standing on the beautiful Kenai River and snagging a salmon that seemed so much bigger than me. I kept asking Dad to help reel it in, but he said, “You’re a big boy. You can bring it in yourself.” After about 45 minutes of pulling the monster to land, I felt like I was Superman. Propelled by that energy, I eventually left my home state, but my superhero mentality stayed with me. Until, that is, I was diagnosed with HIV at 28. Then I felt I had lost my strength and purpose.

The only solution: move back to Alaska. The moment I cast out my fishing line and got another view of that majestic river, I felt like a kid again—like I had regained my powers. But now I had a new monster to conquer: HIV. Luckily my fishing gear was still waiting for me by the door every Friday, ready for the Kenai River.

Whenever I leave Alaska and travel down to the lower 48, I get excited about telling people where I’m from. Their eyes open wide and their next words are usually “Wow, you live there?” I say yes—and then add: “And I have HIV.”

Other Americans see Alaskans as being so different from them. But we all live in the same country, and some of us are part of the same national—make that universal—experience of living with HIV. We swim in the same stream. And our determination is catching.