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Antiretroviral drugs keep HIV positive triathlete on track for world event [Canadian Press]

Canadian Press, August 30, 2006
By Donna Spencer

As a triathlete with HIV, Scott Simpson says the reason he can race in the world triathlon championship Saturday is because he’s part of the lucky minority to be on antiretroviral drugs.

The 40-year-old from Toronto will race in the men’s 40-44 age group at the world championships in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Canada’s elite triathletes, led by Olympic gold medallist Simon Whitfield, will race Sunday in the 1.5-kilometre swim, 40-kilometre bike and 10-kilometre run.

Simpson placed fourth in his age group at the Canadian championship in Brampton, Ont., earlier this summer to earn a berth at the world championships.

He was diagnosed with HIV in 1998 when he had just begun competing in duathlons, which includes running and biking.

Simpson’s emotional and physical health deteriorated after his diagnosis and when he raced, he was just trying to get to the finish line.

“When I was diagnosed, I didn’t take it very well,” Simpson said Tuesday from Toronto. “I didn’t see any hope for myself, is what it came down to.”

His doctor put him on antiretroviral drugs in January of 2002. While extending Simpson’s life, it has also allowed him to reach his potential as a triathlete.

“It was like he prescribed hope,” Simpson said. “With hope comes motivation. I started to make goals for myself.

“With the medication came an increased performance. I could not believe how much faster I was. Back then, I was just competing to complete and now, in the local races, I race to get a podium.”

He finished an Ironman triathlon _ a 3.8-kilometre swim, 180.2-kilometre bike and a 42.195-kilometre run _ in Wisconsin last summer.

He won a silver medal at this year’s Gay Games in Chicago in the Olympic distance and took gold at the Outgames in Montreal in the sprint triathlon, which is a 750-metre swim, 20-kilometre and a 5k run.

Simpson says he’s had nothing but positive feedback from the triathlon community about racing with HIV.

“I haven’t been keeping it a secret. I’m fairly public about it with the events that I do,” he said. “I have not had any negative confrontations at all. I don’t wear an HIV positive sign on my back during races . . . well I did once, during Ironman Wisconsin last summer.”

He works for Dignitas International, which is an organization similar to Doctors Without Borders, but it focuses on increasing access to life-saving treatment and prevention in areas hit hardest by HIV and AIDS.

Of the 38.6 million persons living with HIV in the world, approximately 6.8 million people living in low- and middle-income countries require antiretroviral therapy now. Only about 1.65 million are getting it, the World Health Organization reported at the AIDS conference in Toronto earlier this month.

About 24 per cent of people worldwide who need the drugs are receiving them, according to WHO.

“I am one of the very lucky minority that has access to these medications that not only keep me alive, but allow me to be healthy enough to compete at the world championships,” Simpson said. “There are 40 million people, who, the only reason they don’t have these same medications is because of their geographic location or because of their wealth.”

Simpson, who contracted the virus via unprotected sex, spends $1,000 a month on antiretroviral drugs.

Since qualifying for the world championship, Simpson is up at 4:30 a.m. to train before he reports for work and spends another two hours training after work.

Simpson, who is five foot nine and 154 pounds, is a former smoker and heavy drinker who weighed about 240 pounds before he took up racing.

“I went from the national drinking team to the national triathlon team,” he declared.

Dignitas InternationalAntiretroviral drugs keep HIV positive triathlete on track for world event [Canadian Press]