A compilation of dizzying yet graceful dives spanning the career of legendary diver Greg Louganis flashed across the screen at the Peak Vista Breakfast of Champions in Broadmoor Hall Wednesday, slowing down just enough to dramatize something burned into so many sports fans’ minds: The image of Louganis hitting his head on the diving board at the 1988 Olympics.
Hundreds of people from all sectors attended the community health center’s premier fundraising event, which welcomes an Olympic gold medalist annually, and listened as Louganis recounted that moment.
Sitting in fifth place during prelims, the stitched-up diver returned to the board and completed the highest-scoring dive of those Olympic games, he said, launching him to the finals and giving way to a heroic gold medal comeback in the 3 meter springboard.
That injury, which Louganis jokingly described as a “bad day at the office,” is perhaps the most memorable moment in the career of the most decorated male diver in history, who holds five Olympic medals and countless world and national titles. But underlying that victory and the years that followed was secret agony. Six months prior to the event, Louganis had received an HIV positive diagnosis — “a death sentence” at the time, he said.
“(I thought that) if I tested positive, I was going to pack my bags … lock myself in my house and wait to die,” Louganis said.
While Louganis went public about his disease in 1995 and has since traveled the country as an author, LGBTQ+ activist, coach and speaker, he opened up to the crowd about another struggle: the “black cloud” of decades-long chronic depression that was exacerbated by another head injury sustained over four decades ago.
Because of his own doctor’s holistic take on mental health treatment, Louganis said he was honored to support Peak Vista because he resonated with its goal to treat and support “marginalized” community members who often face social and health issues silently.
“They see the person — the whole person,” he said, later noting that “everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about.”
Emily Ptaszek, who took over on March 28 as president and CEO of Peak Vista Community Health Centers, followed the Olympian’s speech by emphasizing the need for “integration” in health care, saying a person cannot be understood only “from the neck down.”
“You can’t detach the head from the rest of the body and ignore mental health and oral health,” Ptaszek said, also referencing Peak View’s new downtown center serving homeless and other low-income individuals with medical, dental and behavioral health care.
A portion of the funds raised during the event will support the Well Child Waiting areas, which provide free child care while parents attend medical appointments, as well as the First Visitor Program, which has served 60-80 families a month by providing free education, resources and home visit support to parents of children under 5 years old.