Wow. What an incredible weekend this has been. Exciting, nerve wracking, amazing, humbling, full of thankfulness and gratitude, and very, very emotional. Just some of the ways to describe this year’s Transplant Games. The British Transplant Games are a little bit like the qualifiers for the Olympics – this is what determines whether you go to the World Transplant Games. You compete with your hospital, but your individual successes are what get you onto the UK World Games team.
I didn’t do too badly, but the Birmingham Children’s team overall were very successful! (Where I had my transplant and which I subsequently compete for). We are bringing home the ‘Best Children’s Liver Team’ trophy, and – for the 20th year running – ‘The Best Overall Children’s Team’. It was a very special and emotional moment going up onto stage with the whole team to receive those awards. Aware of those we have lost, and of how hard we had all worked to get those awards, this year was an especially poignant one.
Sadly, at the beginning of this year, a team member, friend and inspiration – Luke Biggs -passed away, after being ill for a long time. He was eighteen and just getting ready to move on to the adult’s hospital. Luke was such a team player and he meant so much to everyone in the team, he had such a special presence at the Games. He was and will always be greatly missed. But, we all know that Luke would have been incredibly proud of the whole team this year and would want us to be happy and proud of our triumphs.
This year was full of mixed emotions for me, as this was my last year in the Children’s team. I turn eighteen next year, and will be unable to compete with the Children’s, but not quite ready to transition to the adult hospital yet, (because I’m a ‘complicated case’ in the words of my consultant). So, I will be returning as a Team Manager, not competitor, next year. I am excited for the new adventure, and to experience the Games in a different way. I am also glad that I get to stay with my team for one extra year! It has been my second family for a long time now, and I will miss it so much when I leave.
I have been going to the Transplant Games for eight years and competed six times in total with the Birmingham Children’s Hospital team. Last year, I couldn’t compete. I was extremely ill at that time and I was pushed in my wheelchair around the majority of the 2015 Games. I sat on the side lines and watched as the swimmers raced, and dreamed of this year when I hoped I would be able to compete again.
And thankfully, I was. The difference in me between this year and last is just amazing. Everyone has commented on how much better I look and how amazing the difference is. I felt very flattered with all the compliments I was getting!
In all seriousness though, I wouldn’t be here at all if it weren’t for the generosity and selflessness of one person and their family. My donor and donor family are the people who have made any of this possible. Their decision to give that gift of life to someone they most likely would never meet, is something that I can never express enough gratitude for. It’s something that can never be forgotten or taken for granted, and something everyone should be talking about with their loved ones.
I came to this year’s Games with the simple goal of competing- just to be in the pool, instead of at the side watching. And possibly not come last… However, a mix of adrenaline, excitement, determination and pushing myself to my absolute limits, meant I somehow managed to go and win myself seven medals! More than I have ever won before! It was such an incredible and exhilarating feeling to be on that podium again, especially knowing this would be my last time competing with the children’s team. Some of the girls in my races, I have been competing against for six years and we have become more than just competitors, we have become friends.
The feeling I get when I am racing alongside others who have been through similar experiences to me, is second to nothing I have ever experienced. Half way through the race, when I feel I can’t go any faster, I tell myself that I’m doing this for my Donors, their families, I’m doing it for my team, and I’m doing it for myself. I give everything I can for those reasons. And when I hit the edge of the pool, regardless of whether I am first or last, I am so pleased for the rest of the girls in my race. I cheer for them to finish, and I love the moment when everyone has reached the end, and we all congratulate each other. I love the feeling of exhaustion as I climb out of the pool, knowing that I couldn’t have tried any harder. And if I do win, then I stand on the podium and receive my medal, and I know that my Donors are who got me here.
I think that is what the Games is about, knowing that none of us would be here competing, if it were not for our donors. It’s about trying to make our donors proud, and make the most of the gift that they have given us. And it is about trying to make sure that as many people as possible get that gift. And as many people as possible give that gift.
The Games is primarily about raising awareness of Organ Donation, and of how much a transplant means to everyone involved. It means the opportunity to compete, it means experiencing moments of love, life and laughter. It means everything that life brings with it.
We should all remember that we are the lucky ones that are able to compete at the games. We are the ones who have already received our transplant, and are well enough to be living our own lives.
However, there are almost 7000 people still on the waiting list for an organ, and probably a third of those won’t get the lifesaving gift they so desperately need.
It is our duty to do as much for those people as we possibly can. All of us, regardless of whether you have had a transplant or know someone with a transplant – we can all do our bit to increase the number of organ donors. Just by having one simple conversation with your family and friends you can save up to nine lives – and transform countless others.
This year’s games have been one of the greatest, and I think they could have some very important and long lasting effects on how the future of the Transplant Games unfolds. My next blog will have more information on all of that, but for now, let me just say that it feels like there may be some progress in the making!
On a personal level, I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in making my seven years competing with the Birmingham Children’s team some of my most memorable, incredible and emotional experiences of my life. Thank you for giving me strength to find a goal in very difficult times, thank you for giving me friendships that I know will last a lifetime. Thank you for being THE BEST! It has been so touching and moving being there this year, with my second family, for all the special moments we have shared. From running the 5k Donor Run with the whole team as a tribute to Luke, to partying the night away at the Gala Dinner. It’s been incredible.
This one was for you Luke. For everything you were and are to so many people. We know you were right behind us all the way this year.
So, as we all get stuck in to watching the Rio Olympics, just remember that the rest of us Transplantees have just competed in our qualifiers, and are waiting to see if we have made it into the World Transplant Games. Malaga, June 2017 – that’s when the real Olympics happen! Why not use that as a #donationconversation starter this week?
You sign up, I’m signing off,