Back on the Bike
Athlete & Activist Greg Mahusay Talks About the Long Road He Traveled to Regain His Health
by Hank Trout
Photographed Exclusively for A&U by Michael Kerner Photography
No one can accuse Greg Mahusay of aiming low, of not setting difficult goals for himself.
He plans to raise $30,000 on his own in the 2020 AIDS/LifeCycle fundraising bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, from May 31 through June 6. He isn’t just wishing or hoping to raise that much on his own; he is planning to raise the full $30,000.
“I know it’s a lofty goal, I know that. I’ve done this before, but it’s been a long time. I’ve been preparing for this, mentally, for three years, and I know I can raise the money. I’m at peak motivation now.”
Greg explained to A&U his reason for planning to raise $30,000. “That represents $1,000 for each of the thirty years that I’ve lived with HIV.”
Greg’s path to this milestone has been filled, as many of our paths have been, with obstacles, some self-made, some not. On the cusp of sixty years old, Greg’s life has settled into healthy, sustainable patterns. Life hasn’t always been so “settled,” though. When asked where he is from, he half-grimaced, sighed, and rolled his eyes, seeming to say, oh, gawd, here we go with this long story again. “I was born in Germany,” he explained, before turning to the highlights of more recent history.
This self-identified “army brat” moved with his family to the Monterey, California, area when his dad was transferred from Germany to Fort Ord in 1960. In 1985, Greg came out to his parents. They were more than supportive—indeed, his mother said to him, “I’ve thought so for a long time.” From 1984 through 1990, Greg bartended at The After Dark, a gay bar in Monterey, and his parents were frequent patrons. His parents were supportive of Greg even when he experienced very dark times.
In 1989, Greg received the diagnosis: HIV-positive. Remember, 1989 was seven years before the advent of HAART (1996), when a positive HIV test result was tantamount to a death sentence. As it did to many of us, the diagnosis took its toll on him. The only HIV-related illness he has had is thrush, but he does live with HPV as well as HIV. When Greg’s T cells numbered less than 200, in 1991, he received what, at the time, was called a “full-blown AIDS” diagnosis. Greg listened to his doctor’s advice—he quit work and went on Social Security Disability Insurance; he also quit smoking, quit drinking, and dropped other bad habits in search of healing.
His first AIDS/LifeCycle ride in 1997. “I knew it was going to be really, really hard, but I needed a really hard challenge. The ride was certainly challenge enough! And I could help raise a lot of money for the Foundation. So, I signed up right away.”
Since 1993, when the AIDS Life/Cycle ride began as “California AIDS Ride”, tens of thousands of volunteer cyclists have ridden 545 miles down the California Coast in an extraordinarily challenging ride. They do so to raise awareness of the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and to raise funds benefiting the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation in continuing their work. In the years since its inception, the AIDS Life/Cycle has raised over $200 million from the sweat and muscle of 42,000 riders.
In his then-hometown of Monterey, the press made a great event of Greg’s cleaning up and riding in his first LifeCycle. “There was an article about it in the Monterey Herald. And one of the radio stations, I think it was KCBA, interviewed me. Then they asked me to record a PSA for World AIDS Day, which I was happy to do. There was a big thing made of it.”
After that first ride, Greg rode in two more Rides (he is not certain which two), and was preparing for the ride again when, in April 2016, he was involved in an automobile wreck. Another car T-boned his, severely injuring Greg’s back, neck, and knees. The results of this accident kept him from entering the ride in 2017 through 2019.
Next year, however, he plans to ride in the 2020 Life/Cycle. He has been back in the gym and hitting the weights, and he has just signed up a trainer. He had just started training on long rides again the morning of Halloween and was looking for a group to ride with when he talked with A&U. Greg also told A&U that he will be taking his parents’ ashes along the ride, leaving them in areas and towns that he rides through, starting with Santa Cruz. He has family there, and, as a child, his parents took him there to visit them. In addition to improving his own health and celebrating his thirty years of being positive with a donation of $30,000 to the Foundation, Greg has another reason riding next year.
“I was talking with someone recently who was very adamant about how important it is that all of us long-term HIV survivors tell our stories. And I realized that he was right, that all of our stories matter. I want mine to be one of the HIV stories that gets known.”
Determined that his story of life with HIV—and his recovery from addiction—gets told, Greg has decided to come out as HIV-positive to the company for which he works. His employer is a very large, multi-officed international architectural firm. The company publishes a monthly in-house newspaper that invites employees to submit essays for publication. Greg wrote a warts-and-all “coming out of the HIV closet” essay published in the company newspaper on December 2, the day after World AIDS Day. With it, Greg hopes to educate his employer and coworkers about real life with HIV and thus to fight the stigma and myths that still attach to the virus.
As he says on his fundraising site, “Diagnosed as a death sentence in November of 1989, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, my physician suggested that I quit my job, file for disability and spend quality time with my family and friends. Why? Because I had six months to a year to live. Thirty years later, I no longer participate in dying. These days I participate in living and doing ‘What I can, when I can.’
“My fundraising goal is $30,000, or $1000 for each year I’ve been living with AIDS. Lofty? Yes. Achievable. For sure but it’s only obtainable with your help.”
With Greg’s grit and determination—and charm—there’s little chance he will have trouble meeting his self-imposed quota. And no matter how much he raises, Greg can certainly be proud of being a long-term HIV/AIDS survivor making healthy decisions and giving back to his community.
Hank Trout, Senior Editor, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a forty-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his husband Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.