When Olympic athlete Greg Louganis slammed his head into a diving board in Seoul, South Korea, during the 1988 Summer Olympics, he thought the only injury he sustained was a gash.
“It was pretty gruesome,” recalls the four-time gold medalist in this week’s PEOPLE. “They sewed me up poolside, then I continued diving and later they cleaned it up, shaved it and put proper stitches in.”
But in recent months that head injury — along with another one that left him unconscious for 20 minutes during a 1979 competition — has come back to haunt him in the form of depression, says the diving icon.
“I’ve suffered from depression erratically for years, but now it’s been kind of a persistent thing,” says Louganis, 59, who is anticipating being in Tokyo for this summer’s Olympic Games for the Brazilian TV network Globo Sport. “I’ve always been able to pull myself up and out of it, but lately it seems so much more difficult. It shouldn’t be this difficult.”
In between traveling the globe as the sports director for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, Louganis recently had a SPECT scan to try and detect neurological injuries by viewing how blood flows through arteries and veins in the brain. “I just had that done and the doctors said that a lot of the stuff I’m experiencing, along with the areas of my brain that are hyperactive and the ones that are less active, are consistent with major physical trauma,” says Louganis, who’s working with specialists on treatments to combat the condition.
Louganis, who became the first male diver to win gold in both the springboard and the platform events in the ‘84 and ’88 Olympics, said there was little to no medical follow-up after his concussions.
“The accident in 1979 in the Soviet Union was so gruesome that I wanted to gag when I looked at it,” says Louganis, who became one of the first high-profile athletes to come out as gay in 1994, six years after being diagnosed with HIV.
At the moment, Louganis is working with doctors to try treatments for his depression, ranging from supplements to hyperbaric oxygen therapy. “It is what it is,” he says. “But life, I’ve learned, is all about balance — and I’ve got so much more that I want to do.”
For more of Greg Louganis’ story, pick up a copy of PEOPLE, on newsstands Wednesday.