Like any typical middle schooler, Paige Rawl enjoyed playing soccer, participating in show choir and cheerleading. But after confiding in a friend about her HIV-positive status in the sixth grade, the news quickly spread around her school, forcing Paige to take up homeschooling and give up the activities she loved as a result of being taunted by her classmates.
According to USA Today, students bullied her with the nickname "PAIDS" and left mean notes on her locker. Her soccer coach even made inappropriate comments in front of the rest of her teammates.
"She said we could use my HIV status to our advantage," Paige explained. "That the players on the other team would be afraid to touch me and I could score goals."
Today, the 18-year-old is using her experience as a way to challenge stigmas and assumptions around HIV and AIDS, reports The Indianapolis Star. The Indianapolis activist has traveled around the country, sharing her knowledge with teens and adults about the virus.
Watch the video above to see Paige talk about her journey living with HIV.
In speaking out against the HIV stigmas in our culture, she hopes to change how people think about the virus so others don't have to experience the same kind of name-calling and hurt she once did.
"I tell people, 'HIV does not define who I am,'" she said. "There is no certain face to HIV. This is the type of disease that doesn't discriminate."
As a finalist in Seventeen magazine's "Pretty Amazing" contest, Paige's story will be featured in the October 2013 issue, along with four other young women who are making an impact in their communities.
In addition to being recognized by Seventeen, the teen is also working on a book. She plans to study molecular biology in the fall at Ball State University in hopes of becoming an HIV/AIDS drug researcher.
Maria Christina Martinez is another 18-year-old who used her own personal experience to raise awareness and shed light on a larger issue. Back in April, the New York Daily News reported that Maria's parents were taken from their family's home in New York and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The teen and her brother decided to make their individual hardship into a public matter by creating an online petition and uploading a YouTube video with information about current immigration laws and how they could be changed to better suit immigrant families.
Maria's hard work eventually paid off. In May, her parents were both freed from detention.
"It was an amazing feeling. I was so speechless, I just started crying with happiness," she said. "I just felt all those sleepless nights were worth it."
What do you think of these teens' inspirational stories? Tell us in the comments or tweet at @HuffPostTeen.
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