Despite the highs of his career—winning four Olympic gold medals and one silver in diving—Louganis has also experienced many lows. Growing up near San Diego, he felt he didn’t fit in. He was adopted and had darker skin than his peers. But from a young age, Louganis excelled at dance, acrobatics and diving. As a high school student, he coached the girls’ gymnastics team. Still, he says it was a “dark time.”
Dealing with darkness
Louganis was in high school when he won an Olympic silver medal in 1976. He felt like a failure because he didn’t win gold.
“I let down my coach, my family, my country,” he says, noting it was a confusing time. He wrote a suicide note and took several pills. “I tried to commit suicide. I thought the world would be a better place without me.”
Over the years, Louganis has battled addiction to pills and alcohol. He has attended rehab and therapy, and he knows his triggers and how to handle the darkness of depression.
Reflecting on his suicide attempts, he says, “I’m grateful I didn’t do it. I see all the things I would have missed.”
Healthy and fit
Six months before the Olympics in 1988, Louganis, who is openly gay, was diagnosed HIV positive. He’s been getting treatment since then, and is as strong as ever.
Healthy with stable T cells and undetectable HIV levels, he utilizes both Western and Eastern medicine and makes sure he eats well and stays active.
“My exercise is as important as taking my medicine,” Louganis says, explaining his workouts often include going to the gym and yoga.
Despite his struggles, Louganis says he wouldn’t change a thing because his experiences have given him empathy. Now 57, he’s a mentor for the U.S. Olympic diving team and a motivational speaker. No topic is off limits.
“I include it all because it’s all a part of who I am,” he says, talking to others about mental health, stigma, sexuality, HIV and other issues he dealt with firsthand.
One day at a time
Louganis has lost friends to suicide and knows the impact those deaths have on those left behind. He recalls what his husband, Johnny Chaillot, recently told someone in crisis who reached out to the couple for help: “You’ve seen a lot of things but the one thing you haven’t seen is tomorrow.”
Louganis concludes, “Like recovery, it’s one day at a time.”