Amazing HIV+ Gay Men: Sam Page
BY Jorge Rodriguez-Jimenez
August 20 2014 4:00 AM ET
With his classic surfer looks and a positive focus, lifestyle expert Sam Page might look just like any other Southern California fitness buff. But with a celebrity clientele that includes Florence Welch, the woman behind the popular indie band Florence and the Machine, and a Zen-learner-meets-gay-Dr.-Oz philosophy, Page is anything but a typical Hollywood trainer (though he’s been courted by more than a few reality TV producers this year alone). That’s because the fitness guru doesn’t just work with Tinseltown elite. He’s been helping other HIV-positive guys, including members of Being Alive and Life Group LA, “reach a fitness level they desire” for a decade now. In fact, it’s that focus on what his clients desire that sets him apart. “I think it’s important for people to know that activity is not necessarily indicative of health, and being healthy is not wholly dependent upon one’s activity,” says Page. “Actually, true health is more like a complex ecosystem of many interdependent factors. When balanced, this ecosystem can reflect optimal wellness.”
Page, cofounded and published Hero, a short-lived but popular gay magazine that was forced out of business following the post-9/11 economic downturn, and has since turned his love of health and fitness into a serious lifestyle brand, turning his own HIV status into something powerful and impactful along the way.
What sparked your desire to not only transform your life but the lives and bodies of others?
First, I understand what it’s like to be overweight. I moved to Los Angeles at age 22 and was overwhelmed pretty quickly out of the gate by the amount of beautiful people here. The town probably attracts more people with universal appeal, but living in a sea of seeming perfection feels pretty isolating, and I found myself wanting to compensate for that. By the time most kids get their driver’s license, I had already owned and operated three retail candy and gift stores in my home state of Utah, where candy is practically a food group. Eating became a very natural place for me to seek solace. Then, after my magazine, Hero, went under, and my first long-term relationship ended, I went on a gay cruise to Mexico. There was a costume contest one night, which gets very competitive. A group of guys from San Diego had brought back beautiful handmade beaded necklaces and headdresses from Hawaii. They approached me and asked me if I wanted to dress up and join the group of hula dancers. Delighted and flattered, I said yes. That night, shirtless with just laurels on our heads and grass skirts around our waists, 20 gay brothers stood together, toe to toe, at the top of the ocean liner, overlooking the crowd. That was a life-changing moment for me.
When did you find out you were HIV-positive?
So My diagnosis is a cautionary tale. I found out in 2003. I’d been single and was modeling and acting. I’d just landed a magazine cover, had just finished filming with [Quinceañera director] Wash West, and was traveling around the country dancing, at Stonewall in New York, at Cherry’s on Fire Island, and in Miami–Fort Lauderdale. My friend and I went into West Hollywood for a free HIV test at one of the clinics. We both tested negative. I remember high-fiving each other in relief.
But that wasn’t the end of the story.
Yes, imagine my shock when less than a week later, I wake up one morning unable to form coherent sentences; instead I’m talking in what sounds like my own personal language. I had no idea that I was not making sense, but my friend did, so he took me to Cedars-Sinai [a hospital in Los Angeles]. At the emergency room, I couldn’t even fill out the patient information form they gave me. Diagnosis? Viral meningitis “probably caused by HIV,” but the doctor couldn’t be sure without a viral load count. He ended up being right: I was HIV-positive, just hadn’t created any antibodies yet.