When Vaughn Ripley heard about the Men’s Health Ultimate Guy fitness competition he joked to his family that he should enter. As a devoted health advocate and trainer, it was not an absurd idea that he would be considered for the top prize and featured on the magazine’s cover.
What makes his story unique is that Ripley’s motivation to enter was not to raise his personal profile in the health and fitness world but to raise awareness and advocate for two other communities to which he has a deep connection. The first being that he was born with mild hemophilia A and the other community he learned he belonged to during the tainted blood scandal that broke in the 1980s when doctors told him he had less than two years to live.
He was just 17 years old when he learned he had been infected with the HIV virus from a blood transfusion. “My doctor could not look at me when he told me. He stared at the floor,” he remembers. “He finished with… and you have less than two years to live. It was devastating to hear, especially as a teenager.”
Choosing a Positive Life
The impact of his HIV positive status had serious implications for Ripley and his family. “We were all in shock. Because of the stigma we were afraid to discuss it outside of the family. When neighbors did find out, we started receiving crank calls and even death threats. Someone even threatened to burn our house down if we did not move out of the neighbourhood and our community swimming pool kicked me out. It was a tough time for sure.”
The following years were a very dark time and Ripley credits his then girlfriend and now wife with helping him through it. When asked about having outlived his prognosis by nearly two decades and his approach to life, he recognizes that facing death opened his eyes to living “with more zing!”
“I am a born fighter and I see life as a battle at times. This excites me and motivates me to try even harder.” His secret to healthy living and dealing with both his HIV and his hemophilia is what Ripley calls his survival pie. “It is my belief that you must do a combination of things to live through, survive and thrive despite a life-threatening illness. Survival pie is essentially a balance of family, work, fitness, good nutrition, meditation, spirituality, positive thinking, surrounding yourself with positive friends and daily gratitude.”
Ripley has developed his health regimen over the past two decades and is often approached by others looking for health advice. “I constantly get questions from the bleeding disorder community, people looking for advice on training as it can really curb bleeding episodes.” He started writing blog posts but it felt restrictive to try and “pack it all into one post.” He sees the value in blogging but realized that videos would be more efficient and instructional.
“It would give people a real visual sense of what I am talking about. My thought was a video would be more powerful and YouTube provides a perfect forum. You can upload videos for free and they are available to folks for free.”
Paid Forward and Back
The idea of access appeals to Ripley and while he is aware that he could have created DVDs that focus specifically on joint health and marketed them, it did not sit well to charge a fee when the motivation behind the project is to help others. He has developed outlines for 18 videos and will begin to shoot and upload them to YouTube soon.
Ripley may be feeling particularly indebted to the community these days after the extraordinary amount of support he was given after deciding to make the leap and enter the Men’s Health competition. “I had no idea that so many people in the hemophilia and bleeding disorders community would step up and vote for me.”
Getting Out the Message
Ripley not only entered the Ultimate Guy competition, he held first place in the public voting for two months straight and even had other competitors contact him and tell him they were rooting for him. “It was humbling. And awesome!” He accumulated over 15,000 online votes.
While Ripley did not win the competition, the editor of Men’s Health felt his story was compelling enough for a profile article in their upcoming November edition.
When asked what advice he would pass on to a young person with a bleeding disorder Ripley speaks from the heart as he has a young daughter with mild hemophilia A. “Break free of the chains that would have you believe that you are disabled or incapable of doing great things. The sky is the limit for people and you are no different.”