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Stories of Triumph, World Transplant Games 2019 episode 08 – Day 3 Cycling, sometimes starting is finishing

Stories of Triumph, World Transplant Games 2019 episode 08 – Day 3 Cycling, sometimes starting is finishing

“Der Reifen ist geplatzt” is the first sentence I learned in German a long time ago. It means “the tire has burst” and while my bicycle tire didn’t burst “Der Reifen ist platt” — the tire is flat — is how my day started. After leaving yesterday’s time trial competition with a bruised hip and mechanical mishap, I woke up early and the first thing I noticed was that my back tire was flat. With little time to process another flat tire in three days, I walked my bike to the pickup point for the start of the World Transplant Games bicycle race knowing that the mechanics who had worked on my bike the day before would be able to help me fix it. Seven cyclists loaded in a van for a rainy ride to Hetton Lyons Park.

When I had my first flat, I pumped some sealant into my tubular tires, agitated the wheel, put air into the tire and voila it worked. The second time was not a charm. The mechanics put sealant into the tire which looks like white moose for someone’s hair.  They inflated the tire and then I quickly took some practice laps on the course. When I came back, the tire once again went flat. It’s hard to come half way across the world with a bike and have access to extra wheels. At this point, I had to look after my bruised hip so I went to the next flap in the tent to the physical therapists, which were two women from London who had volunteered to serve and pay their own way to serve at the Games. They iced me and gave me a leg massage. When I excited the tent, the mechanic offered to take me to the nearby city of Sunderland to a bike shop with better equipment to quickly and effectively help me. He said it was 10 minutes away. It was 12 noon.

After 10 minutes of driving it was clear that it would be a 20-minute ride, 22-minute to be exact. Granted, I did get to see the Stadium of Light

Stadium of Light Sunderland


but my bike needed repair for a bike race starting in 40 minutes. When we arrived at the bike shop, the mechanic, like the mechanic three days prior felt obligated to lambaste me for having tubular tires. “In this country, we don’t use … ” After signaling his annoyance that he didn’t like to look at tires like mine, he went to a shelf to look at his various sealants. After taking some time to consider which sealant would be best — murmuring under his breath “this one is better … oh no, but for this tire, I think this one will do the trick” he returned to begin his operation on my tired tire. 27 minutes to go! When he opened the package with valve he realized the sealant he opened was meant for a mountain bike. “Oh right, I needed the other one.” 26 minutes. At this point, I handed him the sealant out of my back pocket and I said, “Here, use this one. I’ll take responsibility for it.” The white mouse color sprayed out of the tire all over his workspace. “I hate this product.” So much for a friendly mechanic. He had the man who brought me to the store pump up the tire and we left.

While we driving back, I was calculating my arrival (12.55) but with traffic I had to keep moving back my arrival time which turned out to be 12.57. I jumped out the car and ran to put on my helmet and shoes while the mechanic put my tire on. As I whisked it away, the chain got stuck … again and the mechanic rushed over to get the chain back on. I arrived at the start line in time to see that the previous race had one lap to go. I made it.

Once the previous race ended, I quickly set my goals. Stay with the first group. I didn’t notice that I had no warmup time but I figured I could stay with the leading group. 1 minute to go. I reached down to touch my bike tire. It was soft. 3-2-1. I got in my pedals quickly and made it into the first group before the left turn descended and then I felt the softness of my back tire. It felt mushy while I was suddenly going 30k. Still I kept up till the first small punchy climb but during the climb it was obvious that the low tire pressure affected my climbing. I felt 10 pounds heavier.

Change of plans: “complete one lap before my tire went totally flat.” When I made it to the end of the first lap, I stopped briefly to check the tire pressure. It was lower but it was still rideable. New goal: “Finish three laps.” After three laps, I repeated stopping, checking for air pressure, and continuing. New goal: “What is a number of laps I would like to finish that is meaningful? Nine I told myself. It was half of 18, my favorite number. IN order to finish the course, we were required to finish 17. I was far behind but I still had to have goals. At lap 6, my American teammate yelled out to ask about how many gears I had. “11” I shouted. At the end of my 7th lap, my friend Tim Hartman from Holland held up his long arm with a tire. He and his Dutch friends stopped me and proceeded to put a new tire on my back wheel. I immediately noticed a difference going downhill but uphill the shifting creaked across the teeth. Still, I was at least “rolling” and so at the end of every lap, I decided to stand while climbing the final straightaway toward the finish line as a way of thanking my Dutch friends and my American teammate. I was also appreciative of an Irishman, American supporters, and other well-wishers who cheered me each passing lap. They had supported me while I rode on a flat tire and now that I could dig a little more, I was going to show my appreciation. Toward the final two laps, I developed some rhythm. During my ride, I thought about my donors, my parents, my preparation, what I could do better for 2020 and 2021, and the 11 months that had led up to this day. My legs felt decent. Yes, I was disappointed, but I wasn’t angry because I just felt that I had some bad luck.

As the race finished, I returned the tire to Tim, then found the winners of my age group, and got a picture with Gavin, one of my fellow competitors (see below), then climbed back in the bus for the 30-minute sunny ride back to Newcastle.

World Transplant Games 2019



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Stories of Triumph, World Transplant Games 2019 episode 07 – Day 2 Cycling, small falls, big bumps

Stories of Triumph, World Transplant Games 2019 episode 07 – Day 2 Cycling, small falls, big bumps

.For 11 months, I knew today was coming and I prepared for year to be here. But as the famous quote goes “Man plans and God laughs.”


The day began magically. I arrived to the start line the cycling time trial competition, checked in, and headed out to the course one hour before the event. A swirl of colors on top of people’s rotating legs were cycling around the bicycle course. 30-40 countries were represented on the cycling course that started on the Newcastle side traversed a draw bridge to the Gateshead side, rode next to the Sage (see below), next to the River Tyne, then back across with the Millennium Bridge (see below) and the Tyne Bridge in the background (see below)


Once the course was closed to begin the competition and I found my spot between the French, Italians, and the Canadians.  After some friend chat and with an hour before my start time (11.50) I found the mechanics who were part of the event organizers (MLS) service. They put a bit of oil on my chain which was a bit dry and better aligned my back wheel. I had put my bike together upon my arrival but the rear derailleur was off by a few millimeters. After a few minutes, I was back on my back and I found a nice track to warm up my legs. Coming from Arizona my legs have always felt tight in the cooler temperatures of the north but they were getting warmer as I felt a mist of water blow off the Tyne River. It felt like rain for a few seconds, then it dissipated. Fleetingly, I wondered about how the water could interact with the oils on the ground and how together they can develop a thin layer of slickness on top of the street. It didn’t bother me as I kicked up my speed from 28-34 kilometers per hour. I felt good with this speed as a warmup. When I came to the end of a street there was a turnaround in front of a food truck. I slowed down to turn and while going under 5 kilometers per hour, my tires gave out and I fell on my right hip. The workers shouted asking if I were alright and except for the sensation of the impact, I got on my bike after putting the chain on, and continued. While riding back, I thought for a second about going back to the mechanics but the bike seemed fine though the shifting seemed a tad off, but not enough to affect me while I rode hard around the course. I thought. I also didn’t know if I had enough time and I didn’t want to interrupt my rhythm.


I was right. By the time, I got back to the starting line, it was my turn to line up with about 6 minutes to spare. I shedded a couple of extra layers that were keeping my muscles warm and seemingly in an instant I was off. I had visualized my race early in the morning and for the first two kilometers, I felt strong while I strategically took the corners to maximize my speed. I navigated Turn 1 successfully, then picked up my speed. When I crossed the road


and into the straightaway and into the wind, I began to weaken, a little, but I was still riding how I wanted race but shortly before the Turn 2, the Dutch rider who started behind yelled that he was approaching. I was surprised, but in racing you can sometimes go as fast as you can go and someone is just stronger but then I made my first mistake. My turn was slow — I haven’t yet mastered turning to the right in England, so it took awhile to pick up my speed and shortly thereafter I noticed Elmar Sprink (see below) who I had interviewed for Organ Oracles pass me. I was going 40 kilometers per hour and he must have been traveling 43. Still, I road my race, held good lines in my turns as I headed toward the first lap turnaround.

World Transplant Games 2019


I thought about my donors, my parents, as I again stood up to pick up speed. I took this hard turn better. The second lap felt harder, but I kept my focus as I crossed the draw bridge, then spun harder as I took the short, punchy hill, and completed a turn. It wasn’t my best, but in time trials there is very little time to waste time thinking about imperfections. After the turn turn I began picking up speed as I approached the Turn 1 again. I swept a little to the left to give myself an easier turn and as I geared down, my chain came off the rear derailleur. Immediately, I stopped and attempted to put the chain back on the ring. Again, the chain wouldn’t move. Twice more I tried the same thing until a teammate and volunteer were watching from the sideline saw that the chain had gotten stuck between the derailleur and the wheel. I had to turn my bike over, use my finger to pop out the chain, turn the bike over, put the chain on the crank in the front, then begin again. It must have have taken at least 60 seconds and as I began an Italian passed me. I could have been angry but there was no point. I had to finish the race. The Italian racer and I took turns passing each other on the straightaway while we were both careful not to draft off one another. It took me at least three minutes to get back the momentum I lost, but my legs moved well considering the fall I had taken before the race and mishap with the chain.

I crossed the line, looked at my time, tried to subtract the time I lost and thought about what “would have been”my time but having been passed, I was happy for the other guys. They were really strong and in Elmar’s case, he had a heart transplant. When I sat down, however, I noticed a large bulge start to appear on my right hip where I had fallen before the race (see pic). As the swelling grew, I found the medical tent where a physical therapist diagnosed my leg. My range of motion were fantastic and there was no pain, just swelling. Still, after a massage and ice, I decided to scratch my participation in the team trial event on the advice of the physical therapist which meant that my team (Team USA) wouldn’t race. That’s the worst part. It’s one thing to get injured but when it affects the others. Ruben, the physical therapist, as it turns out was the same person who saw me during the 2017 World Transplant Games in Málaga. He had moved to the United Kingdom and he volunteered to be apart of the staff in Newcastle. We had a nice chat in English and Spanish, got a picture with him, and headed home.

Life is often not as you expect it. A few hours after the race, I think the fall not only caused the swelling, but in retrospect it likely caused my chain to get caught. It really is the smallest and simplest things sometimes that affect results. But my mini-travail was in the midst of being in “heaven on earth” which is what I feel like during the World Transplant Games designed to celebrate the gift of life with over 1,500 athletes from more than 50 countries.

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Stories of Triumph, World Transplant Games 2019 episode 06 – Day 1 Archery and Volleyball

Stories of Triumph, World Transplant Games 2019 episode 06 – Day 1 Archery and Volleyball

The World Transplant Games 2019 in NewcastleGateshead, Great Britain have begun. The “Games” as they are called by the athletes and supporters celebrate the “Gift of Life” for organ recipients, organ donors, both living donors and family donors. Family donors are those people who decided to let their loved ones’ organs be passed along to another person shortly after their death. Their contributions underpin in physical and spiritual form the World Transplant Games Experience. Over 2,000 athletes from 50 countries lined up on 17 August 2019 to walk through the streets of Newcastle to an impressive parade lined by locals from Newcastle or as they are known “Georgie.” As a group they are fantastically helpful. The Games’ participants are lucky to be hosted by such wonderful people.


The signature opening day event is the 5K road race with winning times typically breaking 16 minutes. However, other events such as Archery and Volleyball started today at the Gateshead International Stadium today. In the first round of archery, Team Great Britain did very well and it typical world competition fashion, teams from Iran, Canada, the United States, Italy, Australia, Germany and others also participated. Every participant has received an organ from another human being. It’s is truly extraordinary.

In the Volleyball competition, the Dutch look to have a very good chance to win a medal as their have an excellent club-level team and professional Dutch supports known for their ability to cheer on their team, most recently in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Teams the United States, Great Britain, Italy, Argentina, and Hungary are also participating.

What’s it like to participate as a transplant athlete with other transplant athletes?


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Stories of Triumph, World Transplant Games 2019 episode 05 – What is like to hang out with a transplant athlete world champion?

Stories of Triumph, World Transplant Games 2019 episode 05 – What is like to hang out with a transplant athlete world champion?

It’s been a few days since I recorded a podcast because I was traveling across England (Oxford and Cambridge) prior to the start of the 2019 World Transplant Games in the United Kingdom. In Cambridge, I had the opportunity to spend time with one of the greatest athletes the World Transplant Games has ever seen. Called the “Michael Phelps” of World Transplant Swimming, Liam Barnett has won 7 swimming medals in three consecutive world championships (2013 South Africa, 2015 Argentina, and 2017 Spain).

Spending time with a world champion gave me insight into habits that produce this level of success. The overriding perspective I can share is that being a world champion takes daily dedication in terms of training, nutrition, diet, stretching, sleep and a magic ingredient that some may call “zest.” Zest isn’t an ever-present effervescent happiness necessarily, but it is a daily love for one’s activities. I’ve seen it before in other athletes’ eyes and there are usually three qualities visible. First, there is a focus that always seems to have a gaze in the distance (the next improvement to make, the next training session, the next competition). Second, there is a lightness which seems counterintuitive. But athletes who train regularly seem to have a calm that comes not only from regular exercise, but a deeper satisfaction knowing that they are doing something they love. Three, athletes seem to have a discontent. Maybe they could have put in another lab, another five minutes, completed one more set, or slept a little earlier. What is remarkable is that often one eye seems focused and discontent while the other eye seems more relaxed. Liam seems to have ample amounts of these traits.

Transplant Athletes 2019

Liam, Zach, Lewis

As a world champion with a transplant, Liam has an appreciation for every moment of every day with the realization that tomorrow could lead to an unexpected hospitalization followed by a training session that would make the majority of people faint with the thought of doing what Liam does a regular occurrence. On August 11, 2019 I got to experience some of this zest first-hand with Liam and another Great Britain transplant athlete, Lewis Watt, a PhD Student in Molecular Biology and Plant Sciences at Darwin College at Cambridge University

While the three of us seemingly were going for a stroll, Liam had planned a walk to “just drop by” the Jesus Green 100-yard (91 meters) outdoor swimming pool in Cambridge “just in case” we wanted to go for a swim. A champion usually has mastered a form of cajoling for himself and others. After all, it takes practice to wake up early daily to dive into cold water, put on tights and go for a bike ride, crawl out of a comfortable bed for the discomfort of the world. One of thought we were just going to “look at the pool” but after a few minutes we found ourselves diving into cold outdoor English waters for a swim. Liam first, Lewis second, and I “dove” in last. In fact, I stayed behind to gently wash water on my limbs to give myself a preview. Unlike a good preview that prepares you for what’s next, once I fell in about 30 seconds after Lewis, I looked for the next set of stairs which I grabbed for 10 seconds to catch my breath. And then everything was fine. That’s the way swimming is and that’s what world champions know very well. The hardest step for any training session putting your foot on the floor from bed. 

As an adult swimmer, I can hold my own but to give you a sense of how an average swimmer fairs against a world champion by the time I had completed 600 yards of swimming, Liam had finished 1,000 yards. It was remarkable to see the years of effort suddenly look “effortless.”  I did one more lap to put in a respectable 800 yards of swimming with Jesus and Green. 

Image result for Jesus Green outdoor pool

Jesus Green Outdoor pool

As transplant athletes, we live for these moments. We train for a year in order to spend a few minutes with our fellow competitors. Obviously we want to win but transplantation makes sportsmen and sportswomen out of all of us because each of us has been humbled … the day after surgery. We count our 10 steps as training steps and we track these steps in our Excel spreadsheets, Garmin, Strava, and GPS devices. We know that the “training” after surgery is often the hardest session we will ever do so to deal with a little cold water is a the price of the privilege of life. When you’re at the start line on the first day of competition, you can look to your left and right down the line and know you can see 40 athletes, like you who have stories but would probably not share them. After all, your competitors have seen the spectrum life and something near-death has to offer.


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Stories of Triumph, World Transplant Games 2019 episode 04 – Why we do this … facts and stats

Season 1 Organ Oracles

Stories of Triumph, World Transplant Games 2019 episode 04 – Why we do this … facts and stats

The facts: The World Transplant Games is a marketing event that’s part of an awareness campaign because the need for organ transplantation is severe. In the United States, for example, 20 people die daily while waiting for an organ transplant. Organ transplantation is a treatment for numerous ailments. It is not a cure. People who receive kidney transplants may have diabetes, hypertension, or polycystic kidney disease.

In the United Kingdom where the 2019 World Transplant Games are held 6,286 people are waiting for transplants. There are fewer organs available than the organ need. To combat this discrepancy the United Kingdom is switching to an opt-out program for organ donation in 2020. Most countries and jurisdictions have opt-in laws which means that a person needs to do a special act to register as an organ donor usually if they die earlier than expected. Because most people simply don’t think to “opt-in” it reduces the potential number of organs available. The new opt-in program in the England means” that all adults in England will be considered to have agreed to be an organ donor when they die unless they have recorded a decision not to donate or are in one of the excluded groups” (

Outside of the United States and the United Kingdom, there are 135,000 organs transplanted annually (2016) which is the population of Oxford in the United Kingdom or Colombia, South Carolina in the United States. While there has been an 7% increase in transplants (2015 to 2016) the distribution of where transplants take place shows that getting a transplant has much to do with your personal wealth and wealth of your country.

That’s where the World Transplant Games Federation comes in. It’s about section reads, “Established in 1978, the World Transplant Games Federation is a worldwide organisation with representation from more than 60 countries that celebrates successful transplantation and the gift of life through unique and inspiring events – namely the Summer and Winter World Transplant Games. Our principle aim is to raise public awareness of the importance and benefits of organ donation by demonstrating the health and fitness that can be achieved post-transplant. Equally, we aim to encourage all recipients to remain fit and healthy post transplant.”

The World Championships helps showcase how athletes can push the boundaries of their life through sport and provide a platform for those who have a newfound health. It is a remarkable event that celebrates life for all and touch all through family members and friends.


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Stories of Triumph, World Transplant Games 2019 episode 03 – gift of life and gratefulness

Stories of Triumph, World Transplant Games 2019 episode 03 – gift of life and gratefulness

Day three. It was my first day waking up in a time zone eight hours ahead of my previous time zone (Arizona). For anyone who has traveled, the first day waking up is when jet lag hits the hardest. Fortunately, I had pushed through the day before to exhaust my body in order to get a full night’s rest. My goal for day three was to find a bicycle mechanic to make fine-tuned adjustments to my bike. Like all great adventures, my goal did not succeed. In fact, I can verifiably say that I rode in circles for 90 minutes covering 18 kilometers. Although I found the mechanic’s, they wanted to charge 25 pounds for their “bronze service” to turn a wrench on my bike a few times. It seemed like overkill so I turned around to find my way back getting stuck in loops of roundabouts as an American who isn’t quite used to roundabouts would and who barely knows the streets and who is trying to navigate the streets while listening to a GPS voice that itself is trying to catch up with the curves in the road. It was a blast.


Backyard Newcastle, United Kingdom


Bike paths, Newcastle, United Kingdom


Neighborhood Newcastle, United Kingdom


English countryside Newcastle


After an afternoon nap, I was able to go to a local gym and take a spinning class (I teach a spinning class in Arizona so it was fun to compare notes), then do some core and weights, followed by a swim. The ride to the gym was also scenic.

Ride to the gym Newcastle, United Kingdom


But the sunset after the workout was even better.

Sunset in Newcastle 7 August 2019


Enjoy today’s podcast (see link) above and consider giving the gift of life where you live by becoming a donor, getting involved with your local transplant organization, and contacting the World Transplant Games Federation ( for more information on the World Transplant Games Federation.

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Stories of Triumph, World Transplant Games 2019 episode 02 – people involved

Stories of Triumph, World Transplant Games 2019 episode 02 – people involved

After a day of flying from Tucson, Arizona to Newcastle, United Kingdom, I arrived in NewcastleGateshead to begin my preparations for the World Transplant Games organized by the World Transplant Games Federation (WTGF). I serve as a board member for the WTGF.

Tucson, Arizona USA to Newcastle, United Kingdom


My three flights were blissfully uneventful and I had two airplane seat mates who helped keep the conversation live. On my flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam, I sat next to an ex-military guy on his way to the Middle East to check on something with a private company. Why is it that ex-military guys seem to have to have extremely vague and vaguely fascinating lives? On my short flight from Amsterdam to Newcastle, I sat next to an American guy who just graduated from a university in Virginia who was on his way to study medicine in the United Kingdom.

Upon my arrival I was met by Lynne Holt who is a transplant coordinator who is the person who coordinates organs from the deceased to those who are waiting for organs. Lynne is a worldwide leader in transplant sports as a former board member for the WTGF and Team Great Britain Team Manager.

Dr. Zachary Brooks arrives in NewcastleGateshead to meet Lynn Holt of Team Great Britain


My number one goal during my first day in Newcastle was to build my bike that I had deconstructed and put into my bike box. See the process below unfold.

After getting my bike, I rode around the Gosforth a suburb of Newcastle (see below).

A local church
A local church near Newcastle

Revisit for frequent updates of “Stories of Triumph”

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