Stories of Triumph, World Transplant Games 2019 episode 10 – Day 5 Athletics and Agony
Fatigue sets in on Day 5 of the 2019 World Transplant Games. The participants, supporters, volunteers, sports management staff take deep breaths and push through. Today was a day of athletics and agony for me personally but it was a magical day for the World Transplant Games 2019 in NewcastleGateshead in the United Kingdom. Athletes from approximately 50 countries participated in the track and field events and while the obvious action was on the field at Gateshead International Stadium, much of the action for the athletes takes place behind the scenes.
“Behind the scenes” in this stadium are multi-use courts behind and underneath the stadium seats. Opening the door to this space is like walking onto a movie set with multiple people working to pull off an event with more than 1,000 people. The first thing you see walking in are rows of massage tables where volunteer physical therapists, also called physiotherapists (physios), in yellow shirts seemingly work around the clock with permanent cheery attitudes on athletes’ muscles. To the right of the row of massage tables scores of blue-shirt wearing officials line up competitors for each event. Finally, behind a large partition athletes warm up on a basketball court doing various leg kicks, stretches, and sprints. It is on this basketball court where the majority of the athletes’ competition time takes place. While athletes size each other up, they also hug each other, happy that after two more years they are both alive and well and that transplants from their donors are still working. The time transplant athletes spend with each other represent just a few minutes in their actual time on earth, but the memories generated in these moments will be replayed and celebrated for the rest of their lives.
In my case, I was happy to see a person I call my brother from another great-great-great-great-great grandmother Stephen Jarvis who ended up Male Transplant Athlete for 2019. Stephen has an Olympian’s talent for athletics which is matched by his love for competition and competitors. And when Stephen departs to check in for one of his many events, athletes from Germany, Colombia, and Thailand jog by proudly showing off their greatest prize: Life.
My only goal for today is to run the 4*100 meter relay race. A relay race consists of four runners each of whom run only 100 meters (hence 4*100) to go once around the track. They use a baton to signal their connection with Newcastle’s bridges as the backdrop. Each bridge was built to connect humans with each other. Modern phones and apps are simply bridges in a new era and transplantation is the ultimate human bridge. I was looking forward to stretching out my arms twice while running the second leg of the relay with a double-lung, heart, and liver transplant recipient. Win or lose, the goal was simply to get on the track and run with my teammates and against others. But destiny had other plans. Agony today was delivered in absence. One of the four people who were supposed to run simply didn’t show up. These moments that are so pregnant in possibility are simply abandoned with one word to the race officials “scratch.” The person who decided not to show up to run with his teammates with unfortunately be remembered in a negative light. Of all the mishaps, I only became angry once and that’s when my teammate didn’t show up. Not having a teammate not show up feels like even more of a betrayal at the World Transplant Games that are full of community and support but unplanned events and having no control over circumstances are part of every recipient’s life. It’s dark.
The light, however, are other humans who shine. Immediately our female teammates began searching the stadium and sending out multiple messages to find a replacement. While ultimately unsuccessful, the deep sympathy shown by our teammates is a memory I will equally remember.
The near-end of the Games brings mental, physical, and spiritual fatigue and yet every volunteer like every donor family, doctor, nurse, healthcare professional and friend simply takes a deep breath and continues walking through the agony to find the athlete inside them.