Pictured Conscious ( left ) and partner Luz.
by Ross Forman
Hometown: Miami Beach, Fla.
College: Attended Syracuse and New York Institute of Technology.
Military: U.S. Navy for three years; studied electrical engineering.
Status: Partner, Luz Soden.
Family: Daughter, 6 years old.
Hobbies: Roller blading, graphic design and working out.
Sport: Basketball; guard or forward.
Plays For: Team Chicago Pow-Wow.
Book It: Wrote the book Getting Unstuck about her experiences growing up and coming out as HIV+. Her book is being made into a Showtime movie, starring rapper Eve. Filming begins in March in New York and Philadelphia.
It's a Fact: Was the music manager of The Queen Latifah Show.
It's Also a Fact: Her clothing line, PrettyTomboy, is supported by LL Cool J and Puff Daddy.
By Ross Forman
When Conscious Soden takes to the court next summer at the Gay Games, she'll be a lean, mean, trash-talking machine. That is, you see, the way Soden plays. She's got game—and she's not afraid to let you know it.
'There's a lot of shaking and baking in my game, a lot of tricks, fancy plays, showboating,' said the former college baller whose favorite basketball players are Vince Carter and Teresa Witherspoon.
Soden, who played at Syracuse and New York Institute of Technology, is a fast-paced, smart player known for her crisp, hard passes, including the amazing look-away passes. She certainly would have been an ideal WNBA player had the league been around back in her day.
Soden, who played childhood ball in downtown Manhattan against a local who later became the legend known as Queen Latifah, will play for Team Chicago Pow-Wow next summer in Chicago.
'You always want to have a certain amount of nervousness. If you're not nervous, you really shouldn't be playing. But it's a good nervousness, one that keeps your adrenaline flowing,' she said. 'I hope to add to the team; I hope to win; I hope to have fun.'
Then, with a laugh, she added, 'I hope to see that I'm as good as I think I am.'
'I've lost some weight in preparation for the Games, and still have more to lose. I'm working to get my endurance up, and am spending extra time on the treadmill and running stairs. My skills are still there, but not necessarily my quickness. So, that's why this ( event ) really is a challenge for me.
'I'm at the pinnacle of my life away from the court ... I want to show I still have it on the court.'
Soden is, after all, a role-model celebrity. She's HIV+ yet never let the news slow her drive. She's an author, a soon-to-be movie star and the host of a talk show on the Oxygen Network.
'A role model is someone who takes risks, a role model is someone who leads, someone who puts their life out there. I think I have and do do that,' said Soden, who regularly speaks to Miami-area students about how not to contract HIV. 'I tell them about the mistakes that I made, the abuses that I've endured.'
Soden down-plays her celebrity status for the Games. 'I'm just out there to support the cause, trying to make a difference.'
'I need togetherness; that's something I love. And teamwork. I don't care if we win or lose; of course I want to win as many games as we can, but as long as I get pictures and memories of the moment, that is what drives me, what I look forward to the most.
'I want people who are HIV+ to know that, yes, you can come back from this disease, that you can still be successful in life, even if you are in fact Positive. I found out 13 years ago. There definitely is life after ( acquiring ) HIV; that's very important to me, to let people know that fact.'
HECTOR L. TORRES, JR.
Hometown: Orlando, Fla.
College: Attends Troy State University ( Alabama ) , working on a degree in criminal justice and psychology.
What's ahead: Plans to attend law school.
Has Competed In: 11 triathlons, including the Miami Man Triathlon on Nov. 13, 2005, in which he finished second in his division.
Teaches Training: Works at several local gyms, teaching spinning, pilates, muscle-toning and boot-camp.
First Half Triathlon: May 21, 2006, in Orlando.
Full triathlon distance: 112-mile bicycle ride, 26.2-mile run, 2.5-mile swim.
Favorite Movie: The Wedding Planner.
Status: Single for the past eight months, 'but I just met someone recently.'
Hobbies: Reading and listening to song lyrics.
Fun food: Eats a small piece of dark chocolate every day.
By Ross Forman
Hector Torres slowly reaches into his wallet, removing the photo of himself from the mid-1990s that he cut off an old driver's license. He weighed 263 pounds at the time and had a 43-inch waist.
The photo doesn't look even a drop like the Torres of today—a buffed 189-pound Hispanic hotty with, oh, maybe 1 percent body fat, if that.
Torres, 27, was overweight for most of his life and his family was even critical of his weight. But it was a girl named Maria that ultimately proved to be Torres' motivation to change. And what a body transformation he's accomplished.
Back in 1997, while living in New Jersey, Torres taught Maria how to dance and the two eventually won a dance competition at a local nightclub. The two got along great and Torres thought he'd ask her about taking their friendship to the next level.
Maria hesitated and ultimately just told Torres that he's not her type.
Maria said, 'Hector, you're fat.'
He was shocked, sad and hurt.
Torres shortly thereafter moved to Florida. She was his motivation, and he starting working out and eating properly.
Torres then moved to Puerto Rico to take care of his mom, Ligha, and eventually weighed in at a ripped 175 pounds.
In 1999, Torres attended a Mr. Puerto Rico pageant, and won the title of Mr. Personality.
'That award meant a lot,' he said.
In 2002, Torres was invited to a wedding back in New Jersey, which all of his old friends also were invited to, including Maria. No one recognized the muscled Torres, least of all Maria.
Well, she eventually asked Torres to dance. And she even said that he looked and danced like a former friend of hers, though she said he was fat. When she asked his name, Torres told her his Puerto Rican nickname, Anex.
At the end of the wedding party, Maria asked Torres to join her and some friends at a local nightclub. He said, 'No ... you're not my type ... you're fat!'
The story had come full circle.
Torres identified himself to Maria and others, 'and her mouth dropped,' he said.
Torres also told her and others that he was gay.
'It was great satisfaction,' Torres said. 'My straight male friends told me, 'You can have any girl you want.' But, well, my greatest satisfaction is ( saying to girls ) , 'You had a chance to have me in your life when I was overweight, but you lost it.'
'There's still a fat guy inside of me, but, hey, I know I'm damn good-looking.'
And that's the under-statement, not a drop of cockiness from the polite, friendly, out-going Torres.
'As I tell people all the time, 'If I can do it, you too can do it,'' he said. 'The photo is a daily reminder.'
Torres, the promotions manager for the top Spanish radio station in Central Florida ( WNUE 98.1: La Nueva Mega ) , jumped into the sporting world after he transformed himself. Three years ago, he watched his first triathlon—and was hooked.
'The competitors were so many different shapes and sizes,' he recalled. 'When you cross that finish line and raise your hands in joy after finishing a triathlon, no one, absolutely no one can take that away from you. I saw their happiness.
'And I just thought, 'If they can do it, I too can do it.''
Torres attempted his first triathlon—a grueling one-day race that combines swimming, running and bicycle riding—on June 2, 2004. However, he was kicked in the face during the swim and couldn't finish.
'It was an awakening; it was more work than I anticipated,' he said.
On July 11, 2004, Torres finished his first triathlon. 'It was a sense of accomplishment,' he said. 'It was an incredible adrenaline rush.'
Torres admits that swimming is his worst of the three sports, with running being his best.
'I do triathlons because they're a challenge,' he said. 'Next summer at the Gay Games, I want to kick ass; I want to win.'
For self-satisfaction, of course, but also for Maria and also for 'all those people who called me a fat bastard.' To them, he says, 'Look at me now.'
Torres truly is a gifted physical specimen. He's dedicated to his training and incredibly aware of his food intake. He still loves to eat, but simply eats like an athlete—not an armchair quarterback.
Just consider ... his two favorite Spanish deserts are flan de queso and quesitos. He eats each only once a year.
'I want to give hope to others,' he said. 'If you challenge yourself and set your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.'
Torres is, naturally, an advocate within the Hispanic community. 'I'm proud of that ... I try to make a difference.'
And that he does. Not just within the Hispanic community, but everywhere.
See www.gaygameschicago.org .
Ross Forman is a sportswriter based in Buffalo Grove, Illinois. He will be profiling athletes and other personalities associated with next summer's Gay Games VII in his continuing series, 'Countdown to the Gay Games' in Windy City Times. Anyone with story ideas, suggestions or comments can e-mail Ross at: Rossco814@aol.com .