Day after day, people who were at one time, literally on their death beds, are now swimming, biking, dancing and running. All of us are truly and gloriously alive because of the grace and love and generosity of another. Next year’s Games will take place in July at Houston’s Rice University.
I have participated in the Games since receiving my kidney in 2002, and each time has been a unique experience.
Let’s start with tennis. I spent much of my childhood and my teenage years on the hard court. So, of course, I assumed my training would prove successful at the Transplant Games. It didn’t. I didn’t make it pass the first round. When I lost to a liver transplant competitor who was four months pregnant, I decided to retire my racket and try another sport.
Next was track and field. Having never participated in this sport, I approached my training with intense focus. My girlfriend, Katie Jo, is a sports freak. So she took on the role of my coach. As I worked at a nearby school running drills, she would time me on the track.
Come race day, I couldn’t tell you where I was in the pack of eight, but I knew I wasn’t first in the 100 meter dash. All the runners were jumbled in a pack as we crossed the finish line. When the announcement came that I had come in third and had won the Bronze medal, Katie and I jumped and screamed like teens at a One Direction show.
Now let’s talk about swimming. In an attempt to continue challenging myself and changing sports for each of the Transplant Games, I traded in my cleats for a swim cap. The 50 meter freestyle would be my race. Once again, Katie Jo was my coach. I quickly realized, however, I didn’t have the stamina I needed, nor the style.
I hit the water hard only to resurface with my goggles choking my neck and my lungs gasping for air. I spent my first several strokes struggling with my plastic noose, finally ripping the goggles over my head and throwing them to the side of the pool. The awkward splashing about I displayed did not prove medal-worthy, and I vowed from that moment on to limit my pool time in public.
The Transplant Games are a reunion for me. I catch up with my cousin and kidney donor Pam, who joins me at every event. I get to hear my biggest cheerleader, Katie, albeit with a Georgia t-shirt on and a Dale Jr. hat.
And I am always reminded of how far I have come from the girl who struggled to climb a flight of stairs. I used to dream of a day when I could be active again, and my transplant made that dream come true.
So no matter what sport I jump into next summer, it is the simple act of pinning a number to my shirt that means the most. It’s a number that’s a testament to the success and beauty of organ donation.