(Photo courtesy of WVU Athletics)

My life has been a battle since the day I was born. Literally.

Both of my parents had AIDS. Not just HIV, but AIDS. And when they had me, doctors were scared that I was going to have it too.

I don't know how my parents contracted the disease, whether it was from sharing needles or bodily fluids, but back in the late 80s and early 1990s, having AIDS was almost a certain death sentence. It takes its toll on fully grown adults, and if a baby is born with the disease, the prognosis is not good.

By the grace of God I was given a clean bill of health, but that didn't mean life was suddenly going to be easy for me. I never got to know my biological father, because he died before I was ever born.

The strangest part about the whole situation was that I had no idea. My mom met someone else, and it wasn't until I was 8 or 9 that I found out that the man I had called “dad” all my life wasn't my dad. In many ways it's a credit to my stepfather, Mark, that he loved me as if I were his own, but imagine hearing that news as a third grader.

Later on I got to learn about my biological father, Moel. I went through the yearbook from North Fort Myers High School and realized that I got my athletic abilities from him. He also played football for the Red Knights, and years later I got to follow in his footsteps. I later found out that he had a twin brother as well, and the strangest thing is I don’t know which was actually my biological father. Unfortunately, Moel’s brother (also named Noel) was also dead. Either way, the man who passed on his athleticism to me was gone.

I wish I would have gotten to know him, but I had two loving parents in my mom and stepdad anyways. Unfortunately, the AIDS virus began to take its toll on my mom too.

My grandma, Lee, had a lot on her plate...at that point she wasn't just raising me, but two other kids as well. The financial burden was just too much for her, and she started compromising her integrity to try and make ends meet. I was only 10, but I knew it was weird to see bags of cocaine around the house. Before long, it caught up with her, and one day I came home to see my grandma in the zip tie plastic handcuffs. She had been caught with a kilogram of cocaine, which was a felony.

I had already lost my dad, and in some ways, now I felt like I was losing my grandma. Within two years of that day, my mom would be gone as well. On January 6, 2000, my mom lost her battle with AIDS. My grandma had to get a release from prison just to come to the funeral.

That was my childhood.

I knew that God loved me, but sometimes it's hard to see when it seems like adversity followed me wherever I went. I came across the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11, which says " 'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.' "

The reading was especially hard to grasp on Dec. 30 of 2004, when my friend Reshard was shot. I wish I could say things would get easier after that, but it wouldn't be the truth. Up until then, all these bad things were happening around me. For the first time in my life, I was about to be at the center of all the chaos.

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Thomas Hager