GREG LOUGANIS By Nelson A. Garcia
We know Greg Louganis from his exceptional performances at the Olympic Games. He is the only male diver to win Gold in consecutive Olympic Games (1984 and 1988). Greg received 5 Olympic Medals, 5 World Championship titles and 47 national titles (more than anyone in U.S. history). 55+ Magazine is proud to feature Greg Louganis in our publication.
55+ Since you were very young, we understand that you were performing in nursing homes and at a local naval base. Please tell us more about that.
GL I started in dance and acrobatics when I a little over a year old. My sister was taking lessons and I used to sneak into the studio and imitate what they were doing. The teacher said that I could stay and see what I could learn. When I was 3, I performed on stage for the first time. I did a tap number and sang. Shortly after that I got a partner and we started performing but we were too young to compete since you had to be six years old. We used to do recitals and perform at convalescent homes, fairs and all different kinds of venues.
55+ When did you first become interested in diving?
GL My partner got into gymnastics and I followed her into the sport. When I was 8, we had a pool built in our backyard with a diving board and I started trying some gymnastics moves. My mother did not want me to kill myself so she quickly got me lessons. After the first set of lessons, my coach asked me to join the club team and I started competing.
55+ You first competed at the Olympics at age 16 in Montreal in 1976. Was this a very stressful situation at such a young age?
GL Kind of…. My coach at that time was Sammy Lee, who won 2 Olympic Diving Gold Medals in 1948 and 1952 and then he coached Bobby Webster to win 2 Olympic Gold Medals in 1960 and 1964. At the 1976 Olympics, Klaus Dibiasi was going for his third Olympic Gold Medal and my purpose was to stop him from breaking my coach’s record.
55+ You attended University of Miami with a diving scholarship after the Montreal Olympics and then transferred to University of California, Irvine. Why did you decide to move?
GL I always followed my coach, Ron O’Brien. When he was recruited to Mission Viejo in California, I wanted to get back to him in preparation for the 1980 Olympics. The last three years of my diving career were in Boca Raton, Florida because my coach was recruited from Mission Viejo to Mission Bay in Boca. He was my coach for 10 of my 20 years in diving so I was going to follow him wherever he went.
55+ We all gasped when you hit your head on the springboard in the 1988 Olympics. Was being a favorite going into those Olympics and knowing what was expected of you impact your concentration at that time?
GL Going into that competition, I was pretty much labeled the favorite because I was World Champion two years prior. In that split second when I hit my head on the board, I became the underdog. In an odd way, it was a blessing. It forced me and my coach to focus on one dive at a time. We really pulled together. I am a firm believer that you do not achieve greatness on your own. I would not have been able to achieve the accomplishments that I did without my coach, Ron O’Brien.
55+ You wrote a book and a movie about your life. How does it feel to tell the whole world your story?
GL It was a little scary. In the middle of all my diving exploits, I studied Theater at University of Miami. I was doing a play in New York, ‘Jeffrey,’ and the character I was playing, Darius, was out and proud. It was always my policy not to discuss my private life with the media so I was able to act out my fantasies through theater. But I also realized some of my fears. Six months prior to the Olympic Games, I was diagnosed HIV positive and my character in the play dies of HIV AIDS complications. In the play it delivers a very poignant message to the main character, Jeffrey, that you should hate AIDS and not life. It was through that process that I knew the next step in my life would be to tell my story. The only way that I thought that I could do justice to it was to write a book. A friend of mine, Robbie Brown, introduced me to my co-author Eric Marcus. So it went from there!
55+ You are involved in ‘Dog Agility’ competitions. Could you tell our readers a little more about what this is?
GL It is an obstacle course that you guide your dog through. They also have other games but it is generally a 20 obstacle course based on how tall your dog stands from the shoulders down. They compete against dogs their own size. My dog, Nipper, became my superstar! She was ranked number one in the country for her breed. And her son, who I still have, was number three in the country. We were quite successful.
55+ We also understand that you are a motivational speaker. Which subject is the most requested and which do you most enjoy speaking about?
GL There are many stories there, whether it be HIV AIDS educational awareness, diversity, marriage equality (I just got married last year and we celebrated our anniversary this October 12th.), Human Rights and Equal Rights. I also mentor for USA Diving. Probably my biggest concern is life after sports; the transition. Often times a lead athlete has a shelf life and it’s a very short window. By the time they finish, they are usually pretty young. They have their life to look forward to but they actually kind of lose their identity of who they are. It is really difficult career- wise, financially as well as emotionally. I am most interested in the emotional support. You have to mentally readjust and there have been a number of suicides. The Olympics can be a really high ‘high’ but there are valleys that happen afterwards that often an athlete does not really prepare for. They have to try to find themselves and where their place is in the world and try to find out what their passions are beyond the sport.
55+ Yoga is an important part of your life. What other activities are you involved in to keep healthy, both physically and mentally?
GL I do spinning classes, so I do some sort of cardio vascular workout. I also do a little bit of resistance training with weights. Yoga is a huge part of my schedule. I try to practice it every day. That helps me with my physical and emotional balance. I also practice meditation and that is a big part of my health and wellness regimen.
55+ Can you share with our readers what ‘future projects’ you are working on?
GL I have the documentary, ‘Back on Board,’ which we are trying to find a distributor for at this time. We are in the process of raising money as well. That is something that I am really proud of. I am also working on my third book, ‘My Journey in Learning’ because I am dyslexic and I also learned that I don’t quite see things often times the same way other people do. I’m kind of opening up the possibility of using your imagination in teaching and the way young people learn. I am also writing a musical with a friend of mine based on some of my life experiences. I just finished a film, ‘Saber Dance’, a short film student project. You can also look for me in the movie ‘Entourage’ when it comes out in June, 2015. Also, I am an occasional blogger on Huffington Post in Gay Voices. That has more up to date information on what I have been up to and sharing thoughts and ideas.
55+ We thank you so much for speaking with us and look forward to reading about your latest ventures on your website…. www.greglouganis.com •