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This AIDS survivor will run his seventh Gay Games marathon in August

At 65, Stephen Kovacev is still running strong and inspiring people across the community.

Stephen Kovacev will be competing in his eighth straight Gay Games when Paris hosts the quadrennial event in August.

I am a 65-year-old athlete living with AIDS on Cape Cod. I will be participating in the marathon at the quadrennial Gay Games that are being held this August in Paris. I will be proudly representing Provincetown at my eighth Gay Games!

I’ve been to every Gay Games since 1990:

  • Gay Games III Vancouver 1990, marathon
  • Gay Games IV New York City 1994, bodybuilding
  • Gay Games V Amsterdam 1998, half marathon
  • Gay Games VI Sydney 2002, half marathon
  • Gay Games VII Chicago 2006, half marathon
  • Gay Games VIII Cologne 2010, marathon
  • Gay Games IX Cleveland 2014, marathon

In Gay Games VII Chicago I was nominated for the prestigious Tom Waddell Award, which was a thrill.

Over 10,000 athletes are expected to participate in Gay Games X in Paris from about 80 countries.

The Gay Games are the brainchild of Tom Waddell, an Olympic athlete who competed in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. The first Gay Games was held in San Francisco in 1982. That same year AIDS was named. As an elite athlete Tom Waddell had first-hand dealt with prejudice towards gay athletes not being able to participate openly in sports. He had a vision to create an Olympic-style event to change the world based on inclusion. His Gay Games vision lives on today: Competition is open to everyone regardless of the level, race, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.

There is always a place for someone who might be suspected to have a handicap. I have a handicap, but it has not prevented me from running with AIDS in important marathons in both the United States and Europe.

Perhaps my ultimate marathon experience occurred when I ran in the marathon at Marathon itself, in Greece. This was the world celebration of the 2,500th Anniversary of where the Battle of Marathon took place. In ancient times, an amazing athlete ran from Marathon to Athens with news of the victory over the Persians, a distance of approximately 26 miles. All over the world the Olympic Games celebrates the marathon, but few people know of the connections between the historic Battle of Marathon and the marathon.

On June 16, 2018, I was standing before the new AIDS Memorial in Provincetown during the dedication and thinking I will be going to run the marathon at the Gay Games in Paris. In 1989 I suspected I was HIV-positive when I ran my first Boston Marathon. I soon would be diagnosed HIV-positive before I ran in my first Gay Games marathon in Vancouver in 1990. I would run more marathons as an HIV-positive athlete.

After nearly dying from full-blown AIDS, in 1997 I was the first AIDS survivor to complete the Boston Marathon. That same year I would be selected to crew on ‘Survivor’, an all HIV/AIDS crew that raced in the 1997 TransPac—a prestigious boat race held every two years since 1902 racing from Los Angeles to Honolulu. An HBO documentary ‘Rock the Boat’ chronicles our challenges and accomplishments during the race.

I was no stranger to training before the AIDS epidemic hit. And ever since I have been aware of the demands made on my body by AIDS. Last year the discovery that I had cancer presented me with another deadly health challenge. Fortunately I responded to the treatment in such a way to be currently considered cancer-free.

Today I find myself to be the oldest survivor of AIDS running in marathons around the world. I have been able to do this with the love and encouragement of my family of friends. As the Olympic Games remember and honors the great athletes of the past, so I also remember and celebrate all those who fell on the battlefield of AIDS.

The Gay Games take place in Paris, Aug. 4-12, 2018.

You can reach Stephen Kovacev at rockovach@comcast.net. He sends special thanks for the love and support from his sponsor for the Games, Jay Anderson.