Gareth Thomas’ three-peaks challenge like HIV journey: ‘That mountain can sometimes seem impossible’

Gareth Thomas

Former Wales rugby union captain and HIV activist Gareth Thomas says he took on the three-peaks challenge because he sees the lived experience of HIV as similar to “taking on the highest peak”.

The sportsman undertook the gruelling task to raise money for the Terrence Higgins Trust, which is the charity partner of Tackle HIV – the campaign he leads to break down stigma and dispel myths around HIV.

During the course of his fundraising, Thomas raised nearly 4,000 GBP (5,115 USD) for the charity.

The challenge saw Thomas climb the three highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales: Scafell Pike, Ben Nevis, and Snowdon, which is also known as Yr Wyddfa.

On his climbs, the rugby star was joined by other celebrities and charity workers, including fellow rugby star Shane Williams MBE, former model Melinda Messenger and It’s a Sin‘s Nathanial Hall.

Gareth Thomas (L). (Supplied)

Speaking with PinkNews about the challenge, Thomas said he decided to undertake this fundraising effort because living with HIV is similar to the task of climbing a huge mountain.

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“It seemed like a really great metaphor for people to understand what living with HIV is like.

“Due to the stigma that is around the virus, that mountain can sometimes seem impossible to climb,” he explained.

“Standing at the bottom of the mountain, looking at the top thinking to yourself, ‘how are you ever going to get to the top of that?’ And then getting to the top of the mountain and having a completely different perspective looking down and actually feeling quite empowered, feeling a sense of achievement.”

Alongside the actual climb to the top of the mountains, an important part of the challenge for Thomas was tackling it with other people as a group.

He explained the team work element was a secondary metaphor for how having community support is vital for people living with HIV, and supporting each other during that climb is akin to supporting someone on their journey with HIV.

Gareth Thomas (C) hiking in the three-peaks challenge. (Supplied)

“At the bottom of the mountain, before we started to walk up, I purposely didn’t introduce everybody to each other because I feel the time we’re on the mountain is the time to introduce yourselves and talk about things.

“The groups we’ve had, some people are living with HIV, some people are working in the HIV sector, some people are husbands, partners, wives, boyfriends of people living with HIV.

“For me, I said ‘I want you all to kind of share your experiences’ because you can learn a lot from other people’s experiences.

“Talking and being brave enough to speak about your low moments and wanting to celebrate your high moments is a really important part of the process of the journey of getting to the top.”

“To me it had every kind of narrative of somebody’s lived experience with HIV,” Thomas added of the three-peaks challenge.

The importance of community was echoed during the group’s climb up Snowden.

There was a moment when they encountered a group of young climbers, who Thomas says were in their 20s, and the group asked what they were climbing for. The young climbers clapped Thomas and his crew when they found out it was for HIV.

Then, when the group met a person on the mountain from a different part of the world who shared they were also living with HIV and Thomas’ campaign meant a “real lot” to them.

The reaction of these other climbers speaks to the “overwhelmingly positive” reaction the entire fundraiser has received.

“I just feel we’ve gained so much momentum now,” Thomas explained. “And it’s become such such a public thing that, that when people see [the word HIV] they recognise it, they understand what it is, they understand what it represents rather than being afraid of seeing those three letters.”

However, Thomas did note that whilst “we aren’t at the bottom of the mountain” anymore, there is still “a lot of work to do” to tackle HIV stigma.

‘I just feel we’ve gained so much momentum now.’ (Supplied)

Of course, taking on three mountains, which have a combined height of 3,408 metres, requires some training.

As an ex-professional rugby player, Thomas is no stranger to staying fit and said he trains “quite rigorously” anyway.

The prepare for the three-peaks challenge though, he used a stepper machine at the gym to replicable climbing up hill for long periods of time, a piece of equipment he jokingly called a “torture machine”.

Becoming fit in that particular type of exercise was important to Thomas because he wanted to ensure he would be able to have conversions with other members of the group whilst climbing, without running out of breath.

Again, this was because the sportsman saw community, communication and shared experiences as a vital part of the challenge.

“The journey of walking up [a mountain] also passes a lot quicker and becomes a lot easier if you’re listening to someone talking or you’re talking yourself,” he added.

Tackle HIV is a campaign led by Gareth Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and Terrence Higgins Trust and aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. For more information visit and follow @tacklehiv