Stories of Triumph, World Transplant Games 2019 episode 11 – Day 6 Bittersweet Ends and Looking to 2021 in Houston, Texas
The end comes, always, whether we like it or not. In most measurements of human time, we have beginnings which necessitate ends. Without an end there is no beginning so the last day of the World Transplant Games 2019 in NewcastleGateshead produced bittersweet emotions.
For people who have attended multiple World Transplant Games the emotional bridge on the last day is a familiar and an unwelcome but necessary path to take. Most participants are travel-weary and ready to go home, yet very sad to depart from their friends. It’s a rite of passage to pass through the last day knowing that you won’t see some of your best friends for two years. But before crossing the bridge, the athletes deny the end, then celebrate. One more human day with your friends begins. By the time you leave your accommodation in the morning you are enveloped once again by the Games experience.
For me, the final day began around 11am when I walked 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) from the centre of Newcastle near Earl Grey’s Monument to the Gateshead International Stadium. It seemed like a perfect August day in Northern Europe with sun, wind, and clouds taking turns for sky supremacy. On earth, it mattered little to me as the mixture produced clean air with a topography-rich walk that abuts both sides of the Tyne River. When I arrived to the stadium, the Games were in full swing. Celebrating life through transplantation sport had taken on a routine quality. Wake up, put on your team’s jersey, get to the sporting venue, cheer, get coffee, and repeat.
Behind the stage where the athletes prepared the atmosphere was festive. The athletes, officials, and physical therapists worked with purpose as they felt the finish line and when the women were walked out in groups to begin the 4*400 relays, the men stood up and applauded. Our group was assembled into a column with six rows and four columns. The six rows were for the number of teams and the four columns were for each member of the relay team. I took the second spot and looking to my left I could see that the majority of the teams had a better chance than ours but I was so thrilled to be there because at least today I had the chance to step on the track.
And when the race officials marched us out to the track my back felt a slap of applause from the supporters and other athletes who were celebrating life through sport one more time at the 2019 World Transplant Games. Satisfaction. I waved generally at whoever may be calling my name. It didn’t matter to whom my energy was directed because any recipient would be happy to receive it.
The crack of the gun turned off the sounds of the crowd. All I could hear was my own breath. I closed my eyes to smile and take a deep breath while I tracked our first runner around the track … 100, 200, 300 … and then the baton was in my hand. Just pass two guys and I passed one. I didn’t feel horrible or horribly fast but when I reached the apex of the final curve the wind I had been hearing about all day hit. I pushed a little bit harder but I hardly remember the last 125 meters. All I remember is seeing my teammate patiently and anxiously waiting for me. I slapped the baton in his hand. He took off. I stopped. My Games were over but the celebrations were just beginning as the relay athletes begin assembling near the finish line. Jean-Claude, the 85-year old transplant recipient from France, had just started his lap and the crowd stood. The cheers sent a wave throughout everyone’s body and we yelled in unison for the oldest athlete at the Games, his last Games. I quickly found him after he crossed the finish line and offered a félicitations.
My walk back to the hotel was languid and lovely and I stopped to take a picture of NewcastleGateshead bridges, a place that started to feel like home.
I got dressed and found my teammates at the bus stop. For the first time we weren’t wearing our team colors. Versions of our “other lives” shone through our clothing choices. We were beginning our walk back across the bridge again to “normal life.” The final ceremonies proceeded festively and effectively and Houston, Texas was presented the baton to host the next 2021 World Transplant Games. Like others, I was spent. My only goal was to find as many people as possible to talk to and take pictures with. I had my picture taken with a female competitor from Hungary, my friends from Australia, a mate from Scotland, talked to man from Iran, enjoyed my conversation with my new American friend, traded the kiss greeting with mis amigos from Colombia, and smiled as I saw my American teammates mingle.
When we began to leave, we walked out into the world to continue spreading the importance or organ donation worldwide.