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Former Wales international Shane Williams has described his former team-mate Gareth Thomas as a hugely ‘inspiring’ individual and has backed his campaign to tackle the stigma around HIV.
As a part of his Tackle HIV campaign, Thomas ran the Royal Parks Half Marathon on Sunday with a team of campaign supporters, some of whom are HIV positive, to raise awareness and understanding and to help address the stigma that continues to exist with HIV.
Williams was due to run the half marathon alongside his former team-mate but a calf injury sustained a week previously at the London Marathon prevented the flying winger running side-by-side with Thomas.
Thomas and the team wanted to demonstrate that living with HIV is not a barrier to achieving anything and was also running to raise much-needed funds for the Terrence Higgins Trust who are Tackle HIV’s charity partner.
Tackle HIV is fortunate enough to enjoy the support of Prince Harry, Sir Elton John, and many from across the sporting and celebrity world, including Williams and Sally Gunnell, who both agreed to run the half marathon with him.
“Two years ago, I did a documentary with Gareth Thomas and at the time he was training to do an Ironman,” said Williams.
“I’d done several Ironmen, so he was getting advice, and then he said he wanted to tell me something and did I mind doing an interview.
“I agreed and that’s when he told me he was HIV positive, I remember thinking really, I don’t know much about HIV, I don’t know if this meant that Gareth is going to be poorly.
“I associated HIV and AIDS with people like Freddie Mercury and the whole stigma that AIDS and HIV had back in the day.
“I straight away felt massively inspired by Gareth because he’s been through so much through the years with him coming out about his sexuality and not knowing whether people are going to support him and he’s going through all this again, having to tell people about having HIV.
“Let’s be honest, Sir Elton John, Prince Harry and Gareth Thomas are hugely influential on people and if they show that they’re fully committed to something and that they believe in it 100%, then people are going to take notice, and the fact he has support from such influential people says it all, really.
“The people we’ve mentioned don’t usually get involved in every campaign, they get involved in campaigns that mean something to them and that they believe in, and I think that says it all really.
“Gareth will continue to push and get involved in this and he’ll have these celebrities with millions of followers out there as well.
“It’s going to make a huge difference to people who follow Prince Harry or Sir Elton John and others as well of course.”
Williams shared a dressing room with Thomas at international level for seven years and was even skippered by his former colleague.
The dimunitive former winger described Thomas as an inspirational individual and claimed he has not been surprised at all by what the former full-back has achieved with his Tackle HIV campaign to-date.
“Why do people like Gareth? - “He’s just the average Joe, he is a typical Welshman as far as I’m concerned. He wears his heart on his sleeve,” added Williams.
“As a captain, he’s massively inspiring, he wouldn’t ask me to do anything he wouldn’t do himself, if he told me to run through a brick wall, I’d try and do that for him because I know he’d do it with me.
“He’s just a good guy, anything I can do to help with the campaign or anything, I’m only a phone call away.
“It was very easy to get involved in the campaign because it was Gareth, I certainly don’t get anything out of this, only the fact that I’m helping Gareth, I’m helping raise awareness and understanding of a great campaign and like I say I’d follow Gareth through a brick wall if I had to.
“It’s no surprise to me really the impact it was going to have. That’s one of the conversations I had with him, you’re going to inspire others to come forward, people like Gareth, he’s funny, he’s got an infectious personality.
“I don’t know anyone really who doesn’t like Gareth, he speaks from the heart and when he does something he goes at 100mph and is 100% committed and since then he’s only raised more and more awareness for the campaign.
“What he is doing is amazing, it was only going to go one way with Gareth, this is only going to raise more understanding, so well done Gareth.”
Tackle HIV is a campaign led by Gareth Thomas, in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and the Terrence Higgins Trust to tackle stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. For more information visit www.tacklehiv.org and follow @TackleHIV