1937 - 1987

Entering college on a track scholarship to pursue a pre-med major, Tom Waddell earned his M.D. in 1965. Drafted into the Army in 1966, Waddell became a preventative-medicine officer and paratrooper. When he realized he would be sent to Vietnam he voiced his moral opposition to war. Instead of court-martialing him, the Army sent Waddell to study tropical diseases and later to train as a decathlete for the 1968 Olympics. The oldest member of the U.S. Olympic team, he placed sixth. A subsequent knee injury dashed his hopes of making the 1972 team. Relocating to San Francisco in 1974, he established a private practice and immersed himself in gay life. In June 1976 Waddell and his then lover, Charles Deaton, were the first homosexuals to appear in the ‘Couples’ section of People Magazine. In 1981 Waddell had the idea to organize a gay sporting event modeled on the Olympics. Weeks prior to the first Gay Olympics in 1982, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) sued Waddell’s organization over the use of the word ‘Olympics,’ claiming that association with the gay community would taint the brand. Though Waddell renamed the competition “The Gay Games,” the USOC sued to recover its legal costs. In 1981, while working on the Games, Waddell met public relations specialist Zohn Artman, who became his lover, and lesbian athlete Sara Lewinstein, with whom he conceived a daughter, Jessica, born in 1983. To secure Jessica and Sara’s rights following his diagnosis with AIDS, Waddell and Lewinstein married in 1985. Despite his illness, he competed in Gay Games II in 1986 and won Gold in the javelin event. In life as in sports, Waddell’s motto was always “Winning is doing your best.” He died from an AIDS-related illness on July 11, 1987 at the age of 49. The Gay Games continue to be held every four years throughout the world, dedicated to Waddell’s memory.

Plaque Sponsor

Dick Uyvari and Joe La Pat; Judge Tom Chiola (Ret.); Sara Waddell Lewinstein, Sara Ghilarducci and Jessica Waddell Lewinstein; Gene Dermody; Gay Games VII Chicago; and the Federation of Gay Games

Lesson Plan


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch AIDS Era (1980-present) Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968) Information Age (1970-present) Post-Stonewall Era (1974-1980)

Field(s) of Contribution

Advocacy & Activism




Social Justice

Social Sciences

Sports & Fitness

STEM & Medicine

US History

Commemorations & Honors

Gay Games Founder (1981)

San Francisco Street Named Dr. Tom Waddell Place (2014)

Inaugural San Francisco Rainbow Honor Walk Honoree (2014)


Original Biography Author
Victor Salvo
Biography Edited By
Owen Keehnen
Biography Vetted, Edited, and Certified By
Sara Waddell Lewinstein
Doug Litwin
and Derek Liecty
Image Rights Usage Granted By
Courtesy of the Waddell Estate
Image Source for Bronze Casting
Courtesy of the Waddell Estate
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell