SAN FRANCISCO — Dr. Tom Waddell, a tall, muscular blond Greek-god type when he represented his country in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, still looks pretty good. Lankier now and bearded, in his favorite dress of sweats and sneakers, he still suggests the supple strengths of the man who was once the world's sixth best decathlon competitor. Not bad for a guy pushing 50. Not bad for someone dying of AIDS.
"It's not that depressing," he says, showing a visitor through his house, an old sports club hall in the San Francisco Mission district that Waddell has lovingly converted into a home and where he also holds concerts and lectures, from string quartets to a speech by Sen. Alan Cranston.
Whether the house eventually passes to Waddell's daughter--as he hopes--or to the United States Olympic Committee, is something the U.S. Supreme Court undertook to decide Monday, when it agreed to hear his appeal of a judgment the USOC won against him in the U.S. Court of Appeals' 9th Circuit.
In 1981, Waddell founded an athletic event he called the Gay Olympics. The second of the event's two quadrennial meetings in 1986 attracted 3,500 athletes from around the world. What Waddell overlooked, however, was that Congress had awarded the USOC exclusive use of the word olympic . In 1982, the committee sued Waddell for trademark infringement and won, obtaining a lien against his house to recoup its $96,000 in lawyers' fees, plus interest. Since then, Waddell's appeal, contending that the USOC could not claim exclusive use of a "historic, popular and common English word" (San Francisco Arts and Athletics vs. USOC, 86-270), has been making its way through the federal courts. Washington is its last stop; if he loses, the house goes.
At the moment, though, he'd rather call a reporter's attention to the hummingbirds swarming around the lovely garden off to the side of his house, pick a visitor's brain for advice on the best word processor or offer his views on arms control. Death, when it comes up, is discussed as absence from a life that has been wonderful.
"I've had an incredibly rich life. I don't feel like I've been cheated. I competed in the Olympics, I got my MD, traveled all over the world, pursued a couple of dreams, saw them come to fruition, not the least of which is my daughter, who's 3, which was the greatest miracle in my life. I just can't get enough of this kid."
Bumps in Neck Glands
The doctor is now a statistic at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, one of the 26,566 humans whose immune system has succumbed to the dread AIDS virus, which is now thought to have entered the bodies of another million or two Americans. Most of them don't yet know that the virus is with them, not having felt, as Tom did one morning, the tell-tale bumps in their neck glands or heard the cough that doesn't go away.
As a physician with considerable emergency room experience, Waddell's gotten used to the idea of death, in general, although he confesses it's a bit more difficult when you're the patient and you've already gone through the pneumonia and TB that often accompany this dread disease.
"Being a physician," he was saying in tones that suggested he was becoming bored with the subject, "I always had to deal with it. I'm not afraid of dying. No one has ever devised a way of avoiding it. I have two choices. I can either look at this situation and get hysterical and become a basket case, or I can say, 'Look, I have so much time, let me make it as productive as possible.' "
Waddell knows the virus--he is a specialist in infectious diseases, has been a virology researcher at Stanford and has kept up on the literature. When first interviewed in September, he had concluded that none of the medicines available were worth taking. But, after the release of some positive findings on the drug AZT and given the progression of some pain up his leg, he decided to give it a go.
Messages to Daughter
He needs the time so that he can finish the notes and tapes that he is preparing for his daughter to listen to at different stages of her life, explaining who daddy was, what he wanted from life and how he came to die this horrible way.
"How do you explain to a young girl growing up that your father was gay and died of AIDS and your mother is a lesbian?" Waddell asked out loud before answering: "I'm gay. But I always wanted a family. I'm sorry I waited so long. I was waiting for the right person to come along, and there was Sara.
"We met during the first Gay Olympic Games. She came on board and said, 'I'm a jock and I like what you're doing. And we gotta know each other,' and it turned out we both had the same wish, which was to have a child, so we did."