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In the days when Tom Waddell lay dying of AIDS, a friend asked Jessica, his daughter, who is almost four, what she would like to do when she grows up, and Jessica, who is very blonde and very beautiful, widened her blue eyes and said, "Everything."
She is truly Tom Waddell's daughter. He did everything.
He lived only 49 years, but his life was an adventure that led him from Paterson, N.J., to Addis Ababa and Odessa, to Bora Bora and Jedda, an adventure that filled him with wonderment and excitement, with incredible pleasure and occasional pain. Self-pity was not in him. Thirty-six hours before he died, he folded his hands on his lap and said, as he had said so many times before, "Well, this should be interesting."
He never spoke again.
Waddell was an extraordinary athlete. He was a college football player, a gymnast and, above all, a decathlete gifted enough to make the U.S. Olympic team at the age of 30 and to finish sixth in the 1968 Games in Mexico City, behind only one other American, the gold medalist Bill Toomey.
He was also a paratrooper in the U.S. Army and a physician specializing, ironically, in infectious diseases—at one time the ship's doctor on a Scripps Institution of Oceanography expedition to the South Pacific, at another the personal physician to the brother of the king of Saudi Arabia.
"Many days, after I was long gone and tired, the macho Olympic champion," Toomey said of their track and field tours together in Africa and South America, "Tom would go to a local hospital and work all night on patients with tropical diseases."
His acquaintances ranged from Adnan Khashoggi, the billionaire Saudi businessman—"Adnan," Waddell once said, aboard Khashoggi's private jet, "at the risk of offending you, I'd like to talk to you about your weight"—to Alan Cranston, the senator from California, a track and field buff, who was the last person to talk to Tom on the telephone before he slipped into his final coma.
They had met when Waddell was a decathlete. In 1984, when Cranston withdrew from the presidential race, he flew from New Hampshire to California, then thanked his supporters in a speech that he delivered in Waddell's cavernous San Francisco home, originally a German-American social and athletic hall and more recently the site of concerts and readings that Tom presented for his friends.
In 1982, Waddell conceived and organized his most ambitious project, the Gay Olympic Games, an athletic festival dedicated, but not restricted, to homosexuals, an event designed to foster both gay pride and the Olympic ideal: "To educate people through sport in a spirit of better understanding...."