It’s been too long since I’ve published a new post and there are so many things I want to write about. The summer has been busy and exciting with some time off and some work travel but I’m trying to keep up the miles and work on my speed when I can.
Once in a while I talk a little about my work with the New England Organ Bank. Primarily my job is to educate people about organ and tissue donation and encourage them to register as organ and tissue donors. The work is important to me and the cause is close to my heart for many reasons one being the loss of my friend, Laura Linehan in 2008. To learn more about the work we do please visit the Donate Life New England website or email me with questions.
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to travel to Houston (yep, Houston in July!) to represent my organization at the 2014 Transplant Games of America. TGA is an Olympic style event where all of the athletes are organ/ tissue transplant recipients or living donors. My co-worker, Kelley, and I helped organize a group from the area who would be competing as Team New England and for six days we cheered them on in their competitions and attended inspiring events like the Opening Ceremony and the Donor Family Tribute. The Games celebrate the lives saved by donation, honor the donors that gave the gift of life in their death and help to promote donation through media and local attention. There were many families there who had lost a loved one but the fact that they were able to become a donor gave them such pride that they attended the games to celebrate the recipients. It was overwhelmingly moving, inspiring and a ton of fun!
Eleven transplant recipients and two living donors made up our group of athletes and we had many more family members and loved ones there to support the team. We met people from all over the country with incredible stories to share about their second chance at life. It was a week of competition but we all cheered for each other. It wasn’t just about the medal; it was about appreciating your ability to compete.
On Saturday morning there was a 5k road race that was open to TGA participants and members of the community. I was so excited that I would have the opportunity to race in such a special event alongside these incredible athletes. The race was scheduled to begin at 8:00 am at Sam Houston Park. It was a flat course and I was feeling pretty strong so I wanted to shoot for a 7:40 pace or below. I got to the race with plenty of time to warm up and get close to the start line for the gun. After a mile jog around the area I was lined up about 10 minutes before the start. Then they told us they were pushing the start off by ‘several’ minutes because there were a ton of people still at registration. The temperature climbed while we stood there already sweating buckets from the heat. This delay did give me a chance to meet some people I was standing with. For example, I met Nicole who was is a living donor from Portland Oregon competing at her first games. You can read Nicole’s TGA recap here (Nicole’s Blog) and be blown away with how she cleaned up this year.
The race finally began at 8:20 and I took off in a sprint immediately. I felt awesome and was ready to push for the next 3.1 miles. My first mile clocked in at 7:00. Oh, wow, that’s a little faster than planned. That’s cool, I thought, this is a good opportunity to push hard for a couple more miles and see what I’ve got. By the end of the second mile the heat was definitely starting to get to me and I was struggling. I was relieved to pass through the 2nd mile and even though I had dipped down to a 7:41 split, I was still on track for a great race. I was also hoping to place in my age group. There were not too many women in front of me and the ones that were ahead looked young. While I was feeling competitive, I didn’t lose the sportsmanship that goes along with the TGA. Coming in to the third mile I grabbed a water and there was a girl running on the inside who had just caught up with me. She had clearly made it a goal to catch me and said ‘you’re running a great pace’. I think I grunted and then handed her the rest of my water before tossing it. Sure enough she was able to take off ahead of me right after that. I hoped she was not in my age group.
My third mile split was a disappointing 7:57. It was maybe poor strategy to leave everything I had on the first mile of the course but I was very pleased crossing the finish line with a time of 23:32. It was a little faster than I had thought I could run … and it was definitely a possibility I might have placed. I found Kelley and we cheered for the runners at the finish line for a while and I waited for the results.
Eventually, they set up a monitor with a scrolling list of runners in order of finish time. I had to wait for almost a full cycle until I was able to see my time and was thrilled to see Top Finisher under the division. I had no idea what that meant but I was going up on the podium. At the awards ceremony I was awarded the bronze medal for the 30-39 Age Group. I was so proud to represent Team New England on the podium!
**A few days later they reposted the results separating out transplant recipients, living donors and public runners. When they recalculated the results I somehow ended up in 4th place for my division. I won’t deny that I was disappointed to see that but I am still very happy with my time and try to remember that you can’t control who shows up on race day. For example, the girl that placed first in 30-39 women is a former Olympic swimmer Kim Black representing Louisiana.
Saturday evening we all attended the Opening Ceremony. Each team walked in representing their state or region followed by living donors, the quarter century club (athletes who had received their transplant 25 or more years ago) and then finally the donor families walked in. These individuals were at the games in memory of their loved one who became a donor when they passed away. As this group walked in the crowd erupted. They applauded and cheered, leaned in to shake their hands and shouted ‘thank you!’. It was incredibly emotional and powerful. There were speakers sharing their story at the ceremony and several performances including Scott Macintyre, former American Idol contestant and kidney recipient.
The following days were non-stop running from venue to venue to cheer on our team and attend events. We also attended a special Donor Family Ceremony and a fun Texas BBQ with music and dancing. The days were long but filled with unforgettable experiences every day. It was a very special trip that certainly ‘filled the cup’ that motivates me to do my best each day at work to empower our volunteers and educate the community about the importance of registering as an organ donor.
What meant the most to me during my trip to Houston for the Transplant Games was seeing how much the athletes appreciated their opportunity to be there and compete. They all truly seemed honored to have been given this gift of a second chance at life and want to show the world that they intend to live life to the fullest in honor of theirdonor. What a privilege it was to participate.
For more information on registering to be and organ and tissue donor please visit www.DonateLife.net