Rugby legend who inspired millions when he came out as gay, and who this year broke down stigma around HIV by revealing he is living with the condition

Inspiration in sport comes in many forms, from a striker scoring a last-minute winner to a coach helping a team of kids achieve their potential. And it can be just as transformational off the pitch.

This summer, when ex-Wales and British Lions rugby star Gareth Thomas revealed he that is HIV positive, he inspired the 96,000 people in the UK living with the virus, but also all of us who can learn from his brave and selfless act.

As the first major UK sports personality to come out as HIV positive, Gareth is proving you can live a full and happy life with HIV.

In an emotional video he posted to share the news, he said: “The reason I’m doing this is because I want to empower so many other people who are in exactly the same position as me, to be able to feel free.

“To do that I have to educate myself, I have to be strong.”

Physical strength is a trait synonymous with the 45-year-old rugby legend, whose prowess on the pitch saw him achieve almost every accolade the game had to offer, leading Wales to their first Grand Slam in 27 years and captaining the Lions.

But he also showed a different kind of strength when in 2009, he became the first active professional rugby player to come out as gay, after years of feeling like he had no control over his life.

Gareth decided to go public to “send a positive message” to other gay people, especially young adults who may be struggling to come to terms with their sexuality.

His admission was lauded as one of the bravest decisions in sport, winning him Stonewall’s Hero of the Year Award.

When Gareth first discovered he had HIV after going for a routine sexual health test, he lacked information about the virus and thought he was going to die.

Living with the secret for years left him in a dark place and he even contemplated suicide. But Gareth once again took control of his life and started to write his own narrative.

Using the experience to make an acclaimed documentary, Gareth Thomas: HIV and Me, he broke down the stigma that surrounds the condition and shows that people living with HIV are not “frail and weak”.

He said: “I took my fitness to another level, because my mental images of people living with HIV were always frail, always weak. I wanted to display the total opposite of that.”

In September, he completed an Ironman triathlon in Pembrokeshire, finishing the gruelling challenge in 12 hours and 18 minutes.

And almost immediately, Gareth’s admission started having a positive effect on the lives of others.

The day after his announcement, the sexual health charity he works with, the Terrence Higgins Trust, announced its busiest day since launching their self-test kits.

Chief executive Ian Green said: “Since Gareth took the courageous step of announcing he is living with HIV, we have seen an increase in the number of people accessing information from our website and telephone service.”

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