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world transplant games 2019

With this year's World Transplant Games coming to an end Team Ireland, made up of 38 athletes, 12 of which are golfers, left an amazing week of competing and making new friendships in Newcastle, England. We got talking to Colin White who is the Transplant Team Ireland Manager and national project manager for the Irish Kidney association about the games and the impact it has on thousands of lives.

History of the Games

The World Transplant Games which takes place every two years first began in 1978 where 99 competitors, including a small number of Irish competitors, took part in a variety of different sports. The concept of the games began after doctors in England had been doing more and more organ transplants and wanted a way to keep recipients healthy and active by giving them something to work towards during their rehabilitation.

Since the first games were held in 1978 the event has grown dramatically and saw over 2300 participants at this year's games from 56 countries. All competitors who took part have received a life changing organ or bone marrow transplant and have been recovering for at least one year.

What is the main aim of the games?

While the standard of the games is nothing short of remarkable with new world records being beaten and personal best being set, the games are about more than just the competition.

The games represent the lifechanging journey that each athlete has been on and the sense of camaraderie is second to none. While on the course, track or in the pool the atmosphere and energy is ecstatic as everyone is competing for that world title, but at the end of the day there are no hard feelings and all athletes are there to share their stories and journeys and create lifelong friendships across the globe. As the games are held every two years, they offer a chance for athletes to catch up on each other's progress and lives.

There are of course two sides to every transplant story. On one hand you have the transplant recipient who has now been given a second chance and a new lease at life and on the other side you have the living organ donor themselves or often the families of organ donors who have passed. Each story is filled with both happiness and grief and the games allow the athletes to thank the families of their donor for having that important conversation about organ donation before they passed.

What is the main aim of the games continued...

The Opening Ceremony had a fantastic parade of all the competitors from the 56 participating countries. There was a big cheer for the UK team as the hosts but the most heartfelt applause was for the living donors and donor families who paraded in at the end. Their presence was a powerful reminder to all the participants that they are competing in the Games as a result of the selfless gift of others.

During the medal presentations athletes take the opportunity to reflect on the fact that their medal is more than a personal achievement, it is a shared victory with their donor. The families of donors draw strength from the games as they are able to see the quality of life that another individual has been able to experience from their selfless decision and shows that every cloud has a silver lining. Donor Families and Living donors can also take part in a select array of sporting events at the games.

What is the main aim of the games continued...

There is a level of appreciation that goes beyond what anyone could put into words and the games allow the athletes to showcase their gratitude through their sport out on the course, track or in the pool.

The games and athletes competing also offer an opportunity to inspire those who have been newly diagnosed and shows them what is possible during rehabilitation and sets them a target to aim towards. Colin explains how the games are a great way to highlight the importance of organ donation and how you should take the time to talk to talk to your family members about it. A conversation which only takes a few minutes can have the impact of a lifetime for someone waiting for a transplant.

How has golf impacted some of the competitors lives?

This year's golf team is made up of 12 athletes, 11 male and one female. Seven out of the twelve competitors have taken home medals at this year's games. This is a great achievement for a small nation. Most of the golf team played golf before their transplant and have used it to help rehabilitate themselves back to their life before their transplant.

One of this year’s medalists is John McAleer who is also the oldest member of Team Ireland’s transplant team at 81 years old. John only received his life saving kidney transplant at the age of 76 for which he received the phone call for while out playing on his local golf course. John has kept active through playing sport for most of his life and this ensured that he was in good shape for surgery.

Golf is a sport that is very well suited for rehabilitation. As an individual sport golf offers individuals to be able to progress at their own pace. Being able to start off in a buggy and play a few holes and work your way up to using a trolley for 9 holes and then even 18 holes is one of the many benefits for organ transplant recipient's as they can still enjoy the game and enjoy the process of getting stronger day by day.

Colin describes how ''you can always help yourself by being as active as you can, as this will help improve your chances if you ever have to go through a surgery''.

How can someone who has received a transplant get involved?

In Ireland there is a transplant and dialysis sports programme that is managed by the Irish Kidney association with the majority of activities based in Dublin. It is open to organ and bone marrow transplant recipients and people on dialysis with all levels of ability and experience welcome. The programme also encourages participants to get involved in their local clubs as this helps them re-integrate back into society as part of their normal routine instead of being seen as the person who was unwell. Colin says their door is always open and they are always happy to welcome new athletes into their group.

With the European Transplant & Dialysis Sports Championships to be held in Ireland next year Team Ireland are looking to surpass their number of entrants that they had when Ireland last hosted the event in 2010, so over 70 team members is the goal! We look forward to following Team Irelands success in the coming years.

If you are interested in getting involved with the Irish Kidney Association and Transplant Team Ireland contact Colin at colin@ika.ie