After dealing with personal torment and struggling with his mental health, retired Wales Rugby star, Gareth Thomas, has shared that he is living with HIV. In an interview with the Sunday Mirror, he shared his story…

“I’ve felt shame and keeping such a big secret has taken its toll.

“I had a fear people would judge me and treat me like a leper because of a lack of knowledge. I was in a dark place, feeling suicidal. I thought about driving off a cliff.

“To me, wanting to die was just a natural thought and felt like the easier way out, but you have to confront things.

“And having a strong support system and the personal strength and experience of overcoming those emotions got me through it.

“Many people live in fear and shame of having HIV, but I refuse to be one of them now. We need to break the stigma once and for all.

“I’m speaking out because I want to help others and make a difference.”

Thomas is sharing his status on the eve of the Rugby World Cup which starts this next week, he will be serving as pundit for the event on ITV. He chose not to share when he was diagnosed, but he shared about the experience of when he learned…

“I’ll never ever forget the moment I found out. I went for a routine sexual health test at a private clinic in Cardiff.

“I’d had the tests every now and again and they’d always come back okay. I didn’t feel ill and I thought everything was going to be fine.

“The woman who did the test took blood as usual, then I went out to my car and waited for about an hour before going back in to get my results.”

During the interview, he began to choke up…

“When I went back in, I sat down on a chair next to a doctor’s bench. She told me in a quite matter of fact way I had tested HIV positive.

“When she said those words I broke down. I was in such a state. I immediately thought I was going to die.

“I felt like an express train was hitting me at 300mph. I wasn’t expecting it at all. Then I was thinking ‘how long have I got left?’ I was distraught.”

Understandably, the news was quite emotional for Thomas, he shared that he was sobbing in the doctor’s arms, struggling with the news. He expressed his gratitude for the doctor’s empathy and advice on getting treatment and moving forward. But still, he struggled with the reality of it…

“I drove straight to Cardiff Royal Infirmary, but I was still in such a traumatised state. In tears, I rang a good friend on the way and blurted it out.

“I told him, ‘I’ve got HIV – I’m going to die’. He was trying to comfort and reassure me and telling me to go and speak to the doctors, but I’d already made my mind up that my life was over.

“I’d never known anyone with HIV or AIDS. And everything I’d heard about HIV was death and frailness.

“Like most people I lived with the belief that HIV is terminal. I tried to keep going as normal in the days afterwards, but felt completely numb.”

Despite all the progress made toward education and awareness campaigns, along with the advancement of treatment that has significantly reduced the effects of HIV, there is still a lot of stigma in living openly positive. There are an estimated 101,600 people in the UK who live with HIV. Thomas chose to reveal his status to break this stigma, he is the UK’s highest profile athlete to publicly share that he is HIV positive.

“I’ve chosen to speak out about this in the Sunday Mirror because it’s the paper I trust to put my story out there in the right way and because I believe together, we can make a difference.

“But the truth is I’m still scared even now of people finding out I’m living with HIV and I’m s****ing myself and feel petrified about what the reaction will be, because we still live in an era where HIV is not spoken about.”

Thomas revealed that he once believed all the myths surrounding HIV, but he has since taken the time to learn more about the virus and educated himself regarding the virus. He is planning to take that knowledge and his public platform to raise awareness and education to break the stigma.

Thomas is one of the UK’s most legendary professional rugby stars, where he won 100 caps for Wales from 1995-2007. He is currently preparing to compete in the Wales Ironman Triathlon.

“I’m fitter now than when I played rugby and I didn’t have HIV then. I’m not just all right, I’m better than all right.”

By Dirk Smith