What's the best advice you've ever received?
My mom always said to make everywhere you go better because you were there. She said it over a little thing like wiping down the kitchen counter when I was a kid. That's become second nature to me. I don't even think about it. It's just a part of who I am.
You won medals in three Olympic Games. Did diving ever become a burden to you?
Oh, yeah. I quit a number of times. After the '76 Olympic Games, I thought I was going to walk away and never look back. I was depressed. Everybody was celebrating me for winning the silver medal, and I came home feeling like a loser. That was really hard for me. I tried to commit suicide – I didn't go to the hospital or get my stomach pumped, but it knocked me out for a while. I just thought the world would be better without me.
What brought you back to the sport?
I realized that I missed it and I loved it. Part of my motivation was that diving was the only way that I was going to go to college. I was the first college graduate in my family.
You won two golds at the Seoul Olympics after you were diagnosed with HIV. How were you able to compete?
Diving gave me perspective, something positive to focus on. I made sure I always met my diving obligations: If I was supposed to be at the pool working out, I was there. But on days off, I kept the curtains closed, covers over my head, hiding from the world.
You love to cook. What can a man learn by spending time in the kitchen?
Some of the most memorable times I've had have been with my mom and friends in the kitchen. If I go to a dinner party, I'm going to help set the table, cut up vegetables. And it's usually very welcome. It gives me something to do, and I feel like I'm contributing. That's where I find comfort. And cooking together puts people at ease. Guards are down and you can share.
You spend a lot of time training and working with dogs. What can humans learn from canines?
They are wonderful teachers. They play hard, and they forgive quickly. It's that unconditional love they bring.
How should a man handle loss?
I write letters. Losing my mom, losing my dad, losing various dogs . . . a lot of times there's anger around those losses, so I write it out for myself – in a letter to them. All good things that I would want to say and share. And after I write it and I'm able to be at peace, I put the letter in the fire and burn it.
What's the best way to motivate others?
By example. That's always the best motivator. The people I admire, you know, they're always pitching in, whatever needs to be done. It's like, OK, roll up your sleeves.
What role does courage play in a man's life?
The revelation that came from writing my book Breaking the Surface is that I thought I was sharing my weaknesses. I was wrong. We have all these preconceived notions of what a man is: It's not a manly thing to admit to dealing with depression, to be gay. Men get inundated with the idea that they have to be the strong ones, but what I've found is that by sharing my perceived weaknesses, I was actually sharing my strengths.
It seems that all these challenges – from bullies to illness to homophobia – actually helped you reach your goals.
Definitely. I really have all of those bullies and those tormentors to thank for teaching me that I was stronger than I ever dreamed I was.