For eight years, she ran away from her HIV-positive status. Now she runs for it
Who finds out they have HIV and then starts running ultra marathons? An accomplished athlete, maybe. But Barbara Kingsley had never run before testing positive almost two decades ago. Coming to terms with her diagnosis proved to be the motivation the paralegal secretary needed to complete both the Comrades Marathon and the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon.
Kingsley discovered she was HIV positive in 2000, a time when information was scarce but stigma was rife. Despite thinking she would die soon after, she showed no sign of illness for eight years. Her initial good health fuelled her denial and refusal of medication. “To start treatment meant acknowledging that I was sick. No one told me what the antiretrovirals could do for me,” she says. “I was determined to do it on my own”. But in 2008, her CD4 count plummeted to 86 and she had to be hospitalised. Barely able to move, Kingsley finally began taking ARVs. Within two weeks, her strength grew and she couldn’t wait to start doing the things she had previously taken for granted. “I had so much energy compared to before,” she says. Running from one lamp pole to the next, she built up the strides until she reached the five-kilometre mark. Then 10 kilometres. Then 15. “Running isn’t tough. Fighting for your life is tough,” she says. “Being able to run is a blessing”.
Since coming out of denial and working with her status, Kingsley’s physical and emotional health has improved. “It was like my life was taken away and then handed back to me,” she says. Living openly as an HIV-positive person, she runs as part of the Positive Heroes team to raise awareness. “Since being diagnosed, I’ve achieved more. I’ve travelled further. I’m braver,” she says. As the world acknowledges World AIDS Day, Kingsley remains proof of the importance of getting tested, starting treatment and realising your potential to live a full life.