Interviews

Gus Kenworthy Talks About the Upcoming AIDS/LifeCycle and Social Media Activism

The Olympian is using his platform to do his part in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy.
All Photos: Jason Rivera

Gus Kenworthy is always in motion. For the better part of a decade, the 27-year-old has been earning a reputation as a world-class skier, winning a silver medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, to go along with a collection of hardware from multiple X Games and World Championships. But that’s just part of Kenworthy’s story—off the slopes, he’s finding himself becoming a true pop culture force, amassing more than 1.2 million followers on Instagram, finding his way into Hollywood with a role in the ninth season of FX’s American Horror Story, and becoming an important activist in the LGBTQ community after coming out in 2015.

That’s a lifetime worth of accomplishments before he even hits 30, and Kenworthy is far from done. On June 2, he will embark upon the AIDS/LifeCycle, a 545-mile bike trek from San Francisco to Los Angeles aimed at raising money for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. After deciding to join the ride in 2019, Kenworthy became the top fundraiser in the history of the AIDS/LifeCycle, bringing in more than $166,000. We spoke to Kenworthy about the ride, how he uses social media to raise awareness for LGBTQ issues, and the challenge of a weeklong bike ride.

M&F: First off, can you briefly tell us about the AIDS/LifeCycle and how you got involved?
Kenworthy: Last year, I had a few friends riding and I saw their posts promoting the ride and various fundraisers for their campaigns. I donated a couple of times, and I went to the finish line to show support as they completed the weeklong ride. Before last year, I wasn’t familiar with the ride, but being there in person and feeling the energy and morale that surrounded the event was incredibly touching, and I was moved to sign up for the following year's ride. That ride is now just a [few days] away and I couldn't be more excited!

You have a sizable presence on social media. How has that type of visibility helped you as you speak about issues like HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ rights?
My intention for the ride was to raise as much money as possible to help those living with HIV but also to raise as much awareness as possible in an attempt to help destigmatize the disease. The great thing about social media is the ability to instantly connect with your audience and reach a lot of people all at once. I set my sights high and aimed at raising $1,000,000 for the cause. I figured that with over a million followers, if each person just donated $1, I could hit my goal immediately. It hasn't been quite that easy, but I'm really proud of how much money I've raised so far and how much I've been able to speak up for the cause and I'm hoping to make a big final push for donations before the ride.

Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy .

How do you train for a 545-mile ride like the AIDS/LifeCycle, and what type of nutrition plan do you have in place during it?
Honestly, I haven't been training quite as much as I probably should be. I've done a few test rides. I've done a few spin classes and I'm just crossing my fingers that will be enough. I know my legs are strong from skiing and I'm in pretty decent shape overall, which I think will help, but I also know that no matter how much I prepare for it, this ride is going to be very demanding. As for diet, it hasn't changed a whole lot because of the ride. I try and eat pretty clean: high protein, low refined carbs, etc. But I'm not as strict with myself as I probably should be.

When you're cycling for something like this, which lasts seven days, is it more physically or mentally difficult?
I think with anything in life the mental challenge is always tougher than the physical challenge. When your body starts to show signs of fatigue, your mind kicks in and tells you to rest and take a break. For me, that starts happening early on in a workout, and it's all about pushing through that pain and continuing to exert yourself, even though that's when it really gets tough. That's when you see the results you want in the gym. That's when you set your personal bests, and that's when you achieve things you didn't previously think that you could.

What's next for you after the AIDS/LifeCycle? What can fans look forward to?
I don’t have any cycling plans post-ALC. I hadn't even ridden a road bike before this whole thing started, and although I've grown to like it a lot, I don't see myself pursuing it competitively or anything. As far as athletic endeavors go, I'm still competing in ski slopestyle, halfpipe and big air and I'm hoping to go back to the Winter Olympics in 2022 for my third, and final time.

You can donate to Kenworthy's AIDS/LifeCycle cause here

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