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Long-Term AIDS Survivor Runs Boston Marathon for Victims

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Wednesday Apr 23, 2014

On Monday, April 21, long-term AIDS survivor Stephen Kovacev returned to run in this year's Boston Marathon, in honor of those who lost their lives, including eight-year-old Martin Richard. After coming back from near death, in 1997 Stephen Kovacev became the first person with full-blown AIDS to complete the Boston Marathon.

"What happened last year shattered many lives and a historic annual event that fills the streets from Hopkinton to Boston with camaraderie and love was turned into a tragedy," said Kovacev before the race. "I am running to be part of reclaiming the spirit of the Boston Marathon and honored to be running in support for those who lost their lives and limbs."

Last year Stephen was a half-mile from the finish line when the bombs did their horrific damage. His partner, Rick, had originally planned to meet him at the finish line. At the last minute, Kovacev told him he'd meet him at his job to catch a ride. The decision was fortuitous.

"With only a half-mile left to the finish, I had just passed the 25th-mile marker. I was on Commonwealth Ave. and preparing to go down into the underpass tunnel beneath Massachusetts Avenue when I suddenly heard fellow runners saying, 'The marathon has been stopped,'" Kovacev wrote in an article on

What began as a beautiful annual event turned into a day of terror, he recalls. But as a long-term AIDS survivor and a lifelong athlete who competed in the Gay Games since 1990 as captain of Team Provincetown, Kovacev wasn't about to go down without a fight. He decided to turn the tragedy into inspiration.

Dying of AIDS, Running the Marathon

"I was a long distance runner before AIDS had hit. When I was dying from AIDS my Yoruba Godmother [Amybelle Olatunji, wife of the famous drummer Baba Olatunji] said to me that I had ’lost the will to live’," said Kovacev. "I was unaware of it because I was ready to die. I was overwhelmingly bereft and had had enough of fighting for my rights, my life and seeing so much of humanities’ inhumanity."

Kovacev has lost his great love, husband Kevin in 1990, and then lost his second husband Michael in 1994. He was tired of the world and its poverty, hunger and lack of medical care.

When Olatunji asked him why he wanted to live, the only reason he could come up with was to run another marathon. She advised him to take things one day at a time, and counseled him with love and prayer.

"I knew it would be a long road when I decided I wanted to live," said Kovacev. "When I did I spent all I had on alternative medications and through my great network of friends in the fight I started recovering."

He gives thanks for the help he got from Dr. Joan Priestly, Michael Onstott in California, Fred Bingham, George Carter at DAAIR (Direct AIDS Alternative Information Resources) in N.Y. and the Dallas Buyers Club is one of a larger story.

"I was diagnosed with AIDS in 1992. I was on my deathbed in 1995. But with spiritual and nutraceutical supplementation I started recovering. Then the new AIDS drugs came out," said Kovacev.

Back then his doctors advised him that training and running the marathon would be too much stress on his already weakened immune system. But he needed to transcend the disease that had claimed two lovers, and many others. He had to reclaim his lost life. He had to run a marathon again to give him something more than doctor appointments, sickness, and funerals to focus on. Training and finishing that 1997 marathon gave him just that.

"In 1997 I became the first person living with AIDS to finish a Boston Marathon, and despite more near-death experiences, I have run many more marathons," said Kovacev. "And now I am writing a book entitled ’Soul of the Phoenix,’ which I expect to be published in 2014."

Hats off to Kovacevs for his brave and selfless dedication. He is a true inspiration.

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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