Honestly, I’m not too sure where to start with this blog. Sat here now, it feels like there is too much to say to even begin. But hey ho…here we are, so I’ll try and do it anyways.
This summer, although it seems like it has been far too short, has been incredibly busy and incredibly…incredible. The two main things which happened this summer are the British Transplant Games and the World Transplant Games. It seems as though for the past two-ish months I have been living in a ‘games bubble’ and I’m not mad about it at all. I would quite like to move in permanently to be honest.
Let me tell you why… (you might want to grab a cuppa and pack of biscuits, because the list is long af)
Okay, a quick description of what the Transplant Games is first. The British Transplant Games is a national sporting event which happens every summer in a different city across the UK each year. People who have had all kinds of transplants compete in sports over the course of four days. More recently, there have been events added that live donors can take part in as well. People can take the British Games as competitively as they like, some people are exceptional athletes and go for golds, others come mainly for the social aspect and then there is a whole range of people who sit somewhere in between.
The World Transplant Games happens every two years and is a week-long event for transplant athletes from all over the world. You have to be selected to be part of your country’s team and these games are much more competitive. They showcase the best of ‘Transplant Sport’ and highlight what is possible even after a transplant. They are probably the best advert for Organ Donation you will ever see.
This year they were held in Newcastle Gateshead, so it was a home games for the GB&NI team. Over 2000 athletes competed from 59 countries. And that doesn’t even include the many supporters who come with the athletes from all over the world to cheer us on and make the most of the social side of the games.
Speaking of the social side, here begins my list of reasons I LOVE the Games…
No.1) THE PEOPLE
Genuinely struggling to find words to describe how amazing the people I have met over the last decade of going to the games are. Friends that I will have for life, who I know will always be there for me. Even though we might not see each other even half as much as we would like, as soon as we are together it’s as if no time has passed. The bond that we share is like nothing else I can explain. If you’re reading this then you know who you all are, and I am so grateful for every single one of you. I miss you all already. Please can you all come and see me, and I will take you to Halo.
This summer I have explored the night life of both Cardiff and Newcastle with my games crew and they have been the best nights ever, and many of those stories will never make the pages of this blog. But I can highly recommend House of Smith, if you are ever looking for a great night out in Newcastle. I think when it got to 3am and the bouncers were kicking everyone out they probably thought we would never leave.
Its not just the nights out that I love though, it’s the nights in. The nights everyone sits together and talks until the early hours. Conversations that can go from hysterical laughter about the strangest topics, to pretty serious chats about things we all go through as transplant recipients. I love that these people can go from (jokingly) bullying me one minute, to genuinely looking out for me the next minute. I have never – and can’t imagine ever feeling as comfortable as I do with the group of humans I have found at the games.
Now, can you all hurry up and come to Ireland??
No.2) THE SPORT
Okay so obviously you go to a sporting event for the sport. For anyone who doubts the quality or competitiveness of transplant sport, come and watch the games. Seriously. Many of these people are top athletes, proving the power of Organ Donation every single day. They are in serious training, and the World Games is a huge goal for a lot of us.
Up until about three months ago, I would have put myself into that category. Unfortunately, since then I have become fairly unwell and Worlds came at a time when I was not able to perform to the level I would have liked, and the level I was at about three months ago in training. But that really is the thing about transplant sport. We never know when our health might decline and sometimes that is just the way life works for us. My timing of getting ill has been famously inconvenient to say the least. Anyway, I move on and hope for a better stroke of luck for the next two-year cycle.
So, while I was quite disappointed with my own times and obviously came away from Newcastle without any medals, there were plenty of races I watched that I was definitely not disappointed with.
This year, for the last time before they both move up into the adults category, I watched and cheered for and lost my voice in the process – two of the boys who I know well and have watched them race against each other for many years. Anytime they are in the pool together, you are guaranteed an incredible race. They are so well matched in ability and – especially recently – you could never be sure who would quite take the gold. I am so unbelievably proud of them both and the sportsmanship they both show every time they race.
Both the 100m Free and 100m Breaststroke 18-29 girls races were highlights to watch. Especially as I was originally supposed to be competing in the 100m Free. There was less than a second between first and second, the atmosphere in the pool was electric and I was yelling at the top of my lungs. Apparently, I have a much louder voice than anyone expects and it seems to shock people, which always amuses me.
In the end, I competed in the 50m Free and 50m Breaststroke races. I am honoured, as always, to compete against superb swimmers – especially when they have become friends over the years. Myself and one of the other British swimmers have been racing together since 2011, well I’ve been chasing her since 2011, but she is now an amazing friend. Even though we compete against each other in most races, in the races we don’t both do, she is the person who I can see or hear at the poolside yelling for me and willing me on. Here’s to many more years of racing and friendship.
There were so many times over the week when I was in awe of people’s strength and talent. Sport is a really incredible tool for people post-transplant, to build up and maintain fitness, help keep us healthy and strong, physically and mentally. Giving a focus and something to depend on, a routine. Some predictability in a life that can be very unpredictable.
It is also the biggest reminder of how much our donors have given us and how grateful we are for this life we are lucky enough to live.
No.3) ORGAN DONATION
As I said above, The Games are the best advert you will ever see for Organ Donation. They highlight just how much this gift really gives people, it truly is a second chance at life and how people make the absolute most of it.
I would say, as a group, the people I know from the games have been through some of the hardest things a person can face but still manage to live life, and not only live it but love it and squeeze every last drop out of it. We do not, as a whole, like to miss an opportunity for a good time and tend to make the most of the times when we are healthy.
Sometimes it is something that is spoken about and we all talk about how amazing this gift we have been given is. Sometimes it is an unspoken feeling, something which doesn’t need words for us all to know we are thinking and feeling the same thing.
There would be no games if it weren’t for the donors, so thank you. Even though that never seems like enough to say.
And so now it has been just over a week (emm what?!) since the World Transplant Games 2019 finished. I am definitely still feeling the ‘Games Blues’, something I think a lot of us feel after leaving such an amazing week and amazing people behind. It takes a little while to settle back into ‘normal life’ again.
Just to keep the momentum of raising awareness of Organ Donation going, tomorrow is the first day of Organ Donation Awareness Week 2019. So be sure to look out for bits and pieces I will be posting on here throughout the week.
On a final note…sometimes the life of a transplant patient can be unpredictable and not the easiest to deal with. But I can genuinely say, that if someone told me I could go back and never need a transplant and live a ‘normal life’, I wouldn’t take that option. I really wouldn’t change a single thing, because I have gained the most amazing experiences, friends and couldn’t imagine my life any other way.
And that – all of those reasons listed above – is why I had my transplant. I didn’t have it so I could wrap myself up in cotton wool and stay safe. I had my transplant so I could get absolutely everything I can squeeze out of life. That’s why.
So, here’s to the donors. Xx