It had been two years since his last HIV test whenabout nine years ago, at age 24Richard Cordova learned he had AIDS, not just HIV.
Cordova was, admittedly, leading an unhealthy lifestyle at the time, which included drug use.
"When I found out [I had AIDS], I really wasn't dealing with my diagnosis. Sure, I was taking medication [for it], but I continued partying," he said.
That lifestyle lasted for several more yearsuntil May 29, 2007, when Cordova took his life down a new path: the running path along the lakefront, to be exact.
That's when Cordova joined the National AIDS Marathon Training Program in preparation for his first 26.2-mile run, which he did the Sunday after Thanksgiving 2007 in Florence, Italy.
Cordova has since completed six marathons, three half-marathons (13.1 miles each) and the last three Rides For AIDS Chicago.
"I've come to live pretty openly with [the disease] and, because I've been pretty open about it, I've come into contact with people who are not as open, and also some who are ashamed [of the disease,]" Cordova said. "Now, for a lot of people, HIV is a chronic, manageable illnessunlike years ago when it almost always was a death sentence. Sure, there are setbacks and struggles nowadays, but it is manageable.
"Personally, I didn't process [the AIDS diagnosis] immediately as a death sentence, but, at some point in the progression of having it, I definitely thought I would die early, that I never would live to see 30 [years-old]. That really was a motivating force to turn my life aroundI realized that it wasn't the HIV that was going to kill me, but rather, the other stuff."
Cordova struggled internally with his diagnosis for several years. Tears were common when he was by himself.
Clearly, Cordova thought his life had a short expiration date after his diagnosis.
However, when he started training for that first marathon, Cordova gave up his destructive past cold turkeyand it's been an upward swing ever since.
Today, Cordova is proof that if one can turn his or her life around, if one wants to.
Cordova is the project manager for the Ride For AIDS Chicago, working for Test Positive Aware Network (TPAN), a position he's held since last October.
"Helping produce this event is rewarding because showing people that they can challenge themselves, while at the same time giving back to their community, is a very powerful position to be in," he said.
Cordova, 33, who is living in Lakeview and dating, got a plus-sign tattoo on his right arm in 2009, of which he is very proud: "The plus sign reminds me that I am living positive."
"Every time I do an endurance event, it's another notch on my belt, showing me that HIV does not define me, that HIV does not have a hold on me," Cordova said. "I know HIV/AIDS is a crippling disease for some, but, for many, it's just a chronic illness. I want people who are HIV-positive, or living with AIDS, to be open and honest about itand not fear retaliation or rejection. I believe that if more people are outspoken about their status, it will help normalize the disease for us all. You want people to have compassion and understanding for you. It's impossible for that to happen when people are unaware of the fact that someone who might be their best friend/brother/daughterand still living with this disease every day."